Eastgate Homes in on Housing Study

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — A housing study of Mahoning and Trumbull counties will enable Eastgate Regional Council of Governments to learn what the housing problems there are and get recommendations to address them.

It’s one piece of the repopulation efforts for the region.

“What we’re doing is a survey of what exists, what the problems are and how we can make movements to address those issues,” said Justin Mondok, director of planning and development at Eastgate.

It will take about a year for the study to be done.

“What we’re doing is a survey of what exists, what the problems are and how we can make movements to address those issues,” said Justin Mondok, director of planning and development at Eastgate.

He said the study will provide an equivalent baseline of information of all the communities in the two counties.

Some communities have undertaken their own housing studies.

“We want to play catch up with the other communities but also drill down and make sure we have the right information, that we’re identifying what the actual problems are and how those problems may persist across the continuum of our communities,” Mondok said. “And then I think we’ll get into some recommendations for possible solutions to some of those issues.”

The goal is to identify the housing problem locally, he said. That includes a range of issues: quality, quantity, affordability and suitability of housing.

“We’re looking at the whole spectrum as far as where is the need for housing across the counties that we serve,” said Tricia D’Avignon, an Eastgate planner. “Is that need for more affordable housing? workforce housing?”

Workforce housing is housing that people who move to the area to fill available jobs can afford. Recommendations that arise from the study would have to be implemented on the local municipal level with zoning codes.

“That’s where you’re going to have to get buy-in from all of the local municipalities as far as if they’re willing to update some of their zoning regulations and practices in order to help with providing more supply of housing,” D’Avignon said.

A first step in the study is underway and expected to be completed in about a month. It’s a market value analysis that’s being created by the Reinvestment Fund. It includes data from local governments like vacancy, demolition and code enforcement as well as U.S. Census data.

Eastgate is asking local governments and those who work in the housing industry to look at the market value data and provide input. It’s to make sure what’s being used in the analysis is accurate. Reinvestment Fund is doing the market value analysis.

Eastgate is working with the Greater Ohio Policy Center for the larger housing study.

“Once the market value analysis is done, that will give good baseline data that Greater Ohio Policy Center can take and create the housing needs assessment,” Mondok said.

That involves more qualitative and less quantitative data, collected through interviews and focus groups, he said. It will offer the center a more ground-level approach.

“Hopefully through this process, we’ve engaged all of our local communities already in our first stakeholder meeting, we plan to have another one probably early spring, maybe late winter,” Mondok said.

They’ll reconvene that group and include any who didn’t attend the first meeting. More follow-up stakeholder meetings are planned.

“We’re hoping to build this repetition of ‘This is how these processes work. This is how the problem is being laid out,’” he said. “And teach people how to work together so as one community is addressing housing issues, another community may be able to do complementary efforts in their own jurisdiction.”

That will allow the whole region to move forward together rather than the work happening in a patchwork way.

Housing is a new foray for Eastgate, but changes in the law, particularly the bipartisan infrastructure law, allow flexibility to look at land use issues, Mondok said.

“That’s kind of how we do this tie between transportation and land use, specifically housing, to really start making inroads with some of these complementary areas of planning,” he said.

The study is a part of the repopulation efforts underway across the region.

“I think the focus on addressing the issue of population loss across the region is very comprehensive,” Mondok said. “So I think everything that we do, we can use that as a lens to guide our planning.”

Housing is a direct tie to repopulation as both people targeted to recruit to move to the region as well as people who are already here need places to live.

“But even our day-to-day transportation planning — how does repopulation influence how we think about current problems and future problems” connects to repopulation, he said. “I would say that’s just kind of an overall lens that we’re applying to a lot of the work that we do.”

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