Lofts, Condos, Apartments…Oh My!
For way too long economic developers took “housing” (your home, domicile, residence) for granted. Our focus was mainly on big industrial sites and buildings, while somehow housing just took care of itself. In many towns like ours in fact, “housing” was supplied by the employers – the railroad and coal companies. This thinking of housing as a utility has long since past, yet much of the housing stock from this bygone era remains. In many cases it is not keeping up with the changing taste of the new consumer.
Without a quality, modern, and diverse housing stock, it can be tough for employers to attract the talent needed to fill the jobs available. That makes housing an economic development priority and why it is one of the 5 operational pillars at the Altoona Blair County Development (ABCD) Corporation.
In recent years demand for higher density urban-style living, lofts in warehouse districts, and authentic neighborhoods with high walkability factors has skyrocketed. This experience started in the bigger cities but is now reaching the central business districts of smaller towns too. Scranton, Lebanon, Williamsport and yes, Altoona, are quickly becoming the next frontier for urban living opportunities. The demand is being driven not just by the single millennial generation but also the 55+ “empty-nesters.”
In order for communities like ours to continue to compete for that high valued talent and attract back those “boomerangers” who left our community and are now thinking of coming home, we need to ensure we have solid market rate housing options at several price points and styles from which they can choose. In recent years we have seen a few buildings downtown turned into attractive urban style market rate living options. And more are in the works. They are proving the market is there. And the more people move into the downtown to live, the more retail and other amenities will follow.
While ABCD does not build housing directly we are working with housing developers to provide market demand data and encourage target properties be reinvented into housing and mixed-use environments. Most directly we are working to develop new financing sources and deploy patient capital that is often needed to close financial gaps; gaps that are common in emerging market conditions like ours.
No longer can housing be taken for granted. Planning for it needs to purposeful and active. Housing is will remain a key component in our efforts to attract the talent needed to fuel our next generation economy.