Housing experts see a strong demand continuing through this decade for Joplin, and they recommend doubling down on construction.
City officials this week received the results of a comprehensive housing market analysis commissioned from a Philadelphia firm, Urban Partners. Findings were discussed Monday at a work session of the Joplin City Council.
City Manager Nick Edwards said the biggest takeaway for him is that Joplin needs more housing options at all levels and prices for different ages and demographics.
“We need more affordable housing. We need more workforce housing. We need housing for the senior population and we need more housing for the younger generation. There’s an across-the-board need for additional housing,” Edwards said.
“The eye-opening thing was the consultant said that to stay on pace to meet that future need, the city would need to double its current level of home construction. For me, when you try to double anything, that is a difficult proposition,” he said.
To achieve that growth, city officials and stakeholders in the industry will have to focus on that goal diligently, he added.
“If people don’t have the housing options they’re looking for, they won’t live here,” he said. “We’ll export our talent and that will lead to decline.”
There are still gaps left by the property destruction wrought by the May 2011 tornado in addition to growth and changing needs, said the city’s planning and development director, Troy Bolander.
“We did several (housing studies) after the (2011) disaster because our housing market was upside down. In this case, for a healthy community, there are several sectors you have to look at. One of them is housing. We need to make sure that we are addressing the housing needs, not only for today, but tomorrow as well. We all have limited public and private sector dollars and we all need to make sure we’re spending them wisely to meet the needs of housing,” Bolander said.
While it’s not news that Joplin has an older population, “what is unusual for Joplin, and we’ve been seeing this over the last few years, is because of our medical complex in Joplin, we are seeing a lot of retirees from smaller communities coming to Joplin for their medical services and moving to Joplin,” he said. “We’ve also have had situations where someone grew up in Joplin and went away to work and now wants to come home and retire. That’s a demographic we’re seeing as well. A lot of them have disposible income and spend their money in the community.”
“Also, we need to make sure we’re building housing that attracts the younger demographic. It’s part of the equation” for healthy growth, Bolander said. “You have to look at job opportunities and amenities and make sure you provide the services that attracts that demographic.”
Another trend reflected in the study is young people who want to move into older or historic neighborhoods, which in Joplin are located near downtown.
“I like to say that what is old is new again,” Bolander said.
Scott Marshall, of Gardner and Marshall Construction and the past president of the Home Builders Association of Southwest Missouri, said of the study’s recommendation that housing construction double, “From what I’m seeing, there is high demand for new construction homes. But I don’t think the workforce is there to meet the demand.”
He said there is a short supply of tradespeople for work such as framing, electrical and HVAC installation and other jobs.
“People have been given the idea that you’re not going to earn a good wage when you work with your hands,” he said. But he said he has made a living in construction and derives a sense of satisfaction from knowing that the work provides families with a place to live and make memories.
Franklin Technology Center in Joplin has a building trades program and works to bring students into the program, Marshall said. The Home Builders Association works with Franklin Tech to promote the trades by giving scholarships to help students buy tools and other equipment to start work.
Key findings of the study include recommendations for strategies to encourage various types of housing development. Those include recommendations for senior housing, downtown, improvements to older housing stock and long-term availability of homes priced within reach of people with low to moderate incomes.
The study reports that consistent with national demographic trends, 96% of household growth in the next 10 years in Joplin will be headed by householders 65 or older.
It projects housing demand for senior citizens through the year 2030 will increase by 1,009 owner-occupied units and 310 rentals, which the consultants reported will be far greater than any other sector of Joplin’s housing market.
Some of the strategies suggested to provide for that housing need:
• Evaluate the feasibility of starting a senior home modification program to offer grants, low-interest loans and/or volunteer labor for renovations to existing homes such as installation of ramps, stair lifts, bathroom grab bars and ground-floor bedroom conversions.
• Encourage new lower-maintenance, one-level housing built or modified in areas near shops, services, trails and outdoor recreational areas. In Joplin, those could be downtown or in the older, traditional neighborhoods such as Murphysburg and East Town, or near main corridors such as Range Line Road, 32nd Street and close to hospitals and medical centers.
• Provide zoning for intergenerational living that could allow seniors to live with their families.
• Continue to work with developers of low-income senior apartments.
Retiring baby boomers and millennials, as well as those of the younger Generation Z, increasingly prefer walkable communities with urban amenities, entertainment, culture and education such as downtown Joplin, the study states.
It is recommended that the city:
• Work with developers and home builders to construct denser housing types such as townhomes, apartments and condominiums.
• Evaluate the feasibility of offering employer-assisted housing programs and/or cash incentives to new residents to relocate downtown. The study reports that Northwest Arkansas and Tulsa, Oklahoma, offer $10,000 to relocate for those with jobs.
• Consider creating an overlay zoning district in downtown to regulate design standards, building setbacks, building heights and parking requirements.
Lori Haun, director of the Downtown Joplin Alliance, said the downtown area currently has about 500 residents, though she didn’t have a current number of lofts and apartments.
It will have about 200 loft and apartment units available in the next three years. Those will include renovations of three key downtown historic buildings: the Olivia Apartments, the former downtown Y and the Frisco building.
“We need significantly … more than we have. About 5% of the (Joplin) community should live in or around downtown,” Haun said.
She has reviewed the study and its recommendations and said of those made of the downtown, “I feel like we already have been working on many of those pieces and it’s much more viable now” to develop residential units downtown than in past decades.
The district currently does have a zoning overlay that encourages redevelopment of properties, Haun said. She added that offering incentives to move to Joplin as a whole is an idea that should be considered.
City programs should continue to support the rehabilitation of older houses, the consultants said. Neighborhood improvements including replacement of dangerous structures is one of the action plan goals the city plans to pursue with revenue from a use tax that voters approved in November.
The study reports that nearly 40% of all housing units in Joplin were built before 1970, according to census data. As of 2019, there were 1,700 long-term vacant houses because of disrepair, legal issues or other circumstances that prevent safe occupancy.
Many older homes are underperforming in the market and would require major investments in order to retain their value, the study states.
It is recommended that:
• The city consider a program to track vacant or distressed properties with an inventory.
• Consider providing incentives for demolition and replacement of distressed homes, which is already one of the action plans the city has adopted for neighborhood revitalization.
• Partner with service providers for a home improvement program in older neighborhoods to stabilize housing stock. A pilot program could be considered in neighborhoods such as North Heights, East Town and Emerson, the study suggests.
• Consider real estate tax abatement for substantial home repairs, although Joplin has a low property tax at this time.
• Work with local lending institutions to establish and widely publicize mortgage products that support the purchase and rehabilitation of homes.