12/16/18 – Housing sees subtle improvement

Posted on: December 17th, 2018 by admin


December 16, 2018


By Virginia Annable



Caldwell County is starting to see the number of vacant houses decline after years of growing numbers, and local officials are turning their focus to filling in the gaps with new development.


Recently released numbers show that the amount of vacant houses in Lenoir, where a quarter of the county’s vacant houses are, has dropped to 16 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey results. In 2010, the number was 18 percent, and in 2014 it peaked at 21 percent.


The countywide vacant housing numbers have stayed relatively constant, at about 15 percent, down from 16 percent in 2014 and 2010.


Lenoir Planning Director Jenny Wheelock said the decrease in Lenoir may be the result of the city’s crackdown on dilapidated housing. There are 1,392 vacant houses; about 25 percent are seasonal properties, and another 25 percent are for rent or for sale.


The city and county both have started using tax foreclosures as a way to tear down vacant homes or put vacant homes in new hands.


An improved real estate market has also helped, Wheelock said.


“Properties have begun to change hands, and new owners are renovating and restoring homes,” she said.


Vacant housing can discourage new development and affect the strength of a neighborhood, Wheelock said. As people begin to fill in those formerly empty homes, neighborhoods become more welcoming and can see more investment.


“Communities find their strength in the individual residents who live in them — strong neighborhoods consist of residents who invest in their properties, know each other and look out for the common welfare of the neighborhood,” Wheelock said. “When houses sit vacant, it weakens the cohesion of the neighborhood.”


The Lenoir Planning Board is considering changes to the city’s building rules that could make new development easier, including apartments, Wheelock said.


Wheelock hopes the changes will encourage projects that will hopefully start to address the “missing middle” in the housing options currently available in Lenoir,” meaning housing attractive to middle-income people.


The county is joining in on the effort by hiring the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Government to assess the county’s housing needs, which may be used to encourage developers and help them make the case to lenders that new housing is needed here.


Wheelock said since Caldwell County have seen little new multi-family housing, she’s excited about the prospect that the study could usher in more rental properties.


“I am hopeful that the housing study will illustrate to developers, especially local builders, that a market for these housing types exists in Lenoir,” she said.


New residential and commercial construction is on the rise in Caldwell County, though not for multi-family residential construction, according to building permit data from the Western Piedmont Council of Governments. The number of building permits this year is about the same as 2017 — about 500 at the end of November — but the monetary investment has increased: Building permits for new residential, commercial and industrial construction through November totaled $61 million, up from $47.2 million in 2017.


While the numbers are up, they still haven’t reached pre-recession levels, said Taylor Dellinger, a data analyst with the WPCOG.


“The number is higher than it has been the last few years but it’s still not up to the number of 2006 and 2007,” he said. “But the trend is certainly up.”

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