Scott County considers its housing future

  • Article by: LIBOR JANY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 12, 2014 - 2:51 PM

Real estate experts offer recommendations for how to meet housing needs in decades to come.

Finding the right mix of housing to accommodate current and future homeowners and renters is among the head-scratchers in store for Scott County in the coming decades.

These challenges and others were outlined by real estate experts at a workshop for civic leaders, at which they stressed that the needs of millennials won’t necessarily be the same as for their parents.

James Vagle, public policy director for the Builders Association of the Twin Cities, a nonprofit trade association that promotes builders and suppliers, guided the group through a presentation that showed the local housing market was growing again, despite being weighed down by rising regulatory costs.

“Frankly, it costs more to build homes here,” Vagle said.

Besides opening more lots in “key locales,” he suggested that communities consider building affordable houses and townhouses to entice millennials, whose fickle buying habits have long flummoxed developers and Realtors, to become homeowners.

“Frankly, we obsess about what they want to do, because we need to know what they’re about to do,” Vagle told the audience, of about 50, to a round of chuckles.

He pointed to Eden Gardens, an energy-efficient 36-unit townhouse development being planned for Eden Prairie, as a shining example of how communities are catering to millennials, who expect “efficiency and sustainability.”

While unemployment is low, hovering at around 4 percent, he pointed out that the twin problems of underemployment and “confidence issues” of homeowners scarred by the foreclosure crisis — the “ready-to-buy-again generation” as one presenter called them — persist.

“It’s one thing to go out and have a nice dinner. It’s another thing to have the confidence to go out and buy a new home,” Vagle said.

Scott County is today heavily geared toward owned vs. rented units, and single family vs. multifamily.

The county’s homeownership rate is 85 percent, 12 percentage points higher than the state’s rate, itself quite high by national standards. Multifamily units account for only nine percent of all homes, where the state’s rate is 22 percent.

Experts said that communities in Scott will have to find the right balance between complying with the higher-density mandates called for in the Metropolitan Council’s Thrive 2040 plan, while preserving its bucolic suburban character.

Vagle said that communities should consider implementing changes to quicken the permitting process for green projects.

He was addressing on Friday the members of the Scott County Association for Leadership and Efficiency (SCALE), a group of mayors, city managers, school administrators and others, at Prior Lake City Hall.

In addition to the builders, an expert from the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors discussed future housing trends in the county, which could see several thousand new households within the next three decades.

David Arbit, a research manager with 10K Research and Marketing who also works with Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors, said that risk-averse lenders were making it difficult for home buyers of any age to break into the market.

Yet senior housing was notably absent from the discussion, until someone in the audience asked Arbit whether there was a shortage of such housing in Scott County. The latter responded that demographic data is still spotty.

The discussion was part of a monthly series of SCALE-sponsored workshops aimed at encouraging “greater efficiencies and leadership in public service through enhanced communication, collaboration of services, and sharing of resources,” according to the group’s website.

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