Soaring lumber prices taking a toll on affordable housing in Columbus

Columbus

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Headlines from around the country and in Central Ohio have been ruled by lumber futures during the past 12 months due to do-it-yourself projects, the need for quality lumber, and affordable housing.

Many builders and contractors have had to get creative with pricing and financing to get projects started and close a deal. One of those developers is MidOhio Habitat for Humanity (MOHH).

“Every piece is like a puzzle. Once you put them together and you got something that looks like a picture, then you’re ready to build,” said MOHH Executive Director E.J. Thomas.

MOHH has focused its recent efforts on building and restoring affordable housing in the Linden area. The day NBC4i.com visited Republic Avenue, a house was being finished. Three doors east of there, a house was being dedicated.

“It’s a pretty wonderful feeling when you take an area that has been in decline, and what we’re trying to do is not only bring the neighborhood back [but] also bring the quality up for all of the families that then become our partner families in this objective,” Thomas said.

The discussion of affordable housing is a hot topic. With prices of real estate rising nearly 20% during the past year, with houses hitting the market and having a contract to purchase them in less than a week, and with apartments are at near-max capacity, people need a place to live.

Affordable housing can mean numerous things. Many people may consider this to mean HUD or Section 8 programs. In reality, affordable housing can run the gamut, including a VA loan, first-time home-buyers program or senior housing.

At the beginning of June, the average home price in Franklin County was estimated to be $290,000. Homes at this price can be difficult for one-income households.

“Affordable housing means that you have a home that you can afford without going bankrupt,” said Carlie Boos of the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio (AHACO).

The AHACO is a research and advocacy organization. The group tracks housing affordability in Central Ohio and helps create solutions for those needs.

“We have an immense amount of need right now,” said Boos. “Before COVID-19, there were 50,000 households that were paying more than half of their income towards housing. That’s the danger zone,” said Boos with emphasis.

That danger zone Boos referred to is when the person has to decide whether to buy food, medicine, make the rent, or pay for gas. Ultimately, the person’s income is stretched too thin.

“The problem that we have is that people aren’t making poor decisions, it’s that the market is not supporting what most Ohioans and Americans, in particular, can afford to pay for housing.”

Boos explained that the housing market is growing but does not expand to meet the housing response of new people coming in. The people Boos said are affected most are people with disabilities and those on fixed incomes.

“We should be building 14,000 homes a year just to lock in the housing crisis to keep it from getting worse,” she said. “We’re lucky if we’re building 11,000 a year. Most years, we’re building 8,000.”

The prices of building homes can be puzzling and even aggravating when considering the price of lumber.

“You look at the last couple of years, just sticks and bricks, the cost has gone up by $30K for one of our homes,” said MOHH’s E. J. Thomas.

Lumber futures dropped nearly 60% in the middle of June, but the prices are still escalated compared to a year ago.

“When it comes to lumber in particular, our prices are down from the worst of the worst, which was in May,” said Boos. “They are almost double than they were at this point last year.”

As for MOHH, the group is holding strong to provide, build, and close affordable housing. The organization has a three-fold revenue stream:

  • Mortgages, payments from zero percent interest from 200 loans
  • ReStore sales income that brings in nearly $200,000 a month
  • Development efforts from donors and the volunteer workforce

“So we’ve got a gap right now when you consider lumber prices have increased anywhere from 80 to 100 percent for the packages we have to put into these homes,” said Thomas.

That gap has been filled by MOHH’s fiduciary model. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, MOHH dedicated a house for a local family on Republic Avenue and was putting the finishing touches on another property a few doors away.

“Folks feel like they’ve accomplished something when they get finished with a house,” said Thomas.

While housing materials are higher than usual, the providers like AFACO and MOFF see a positive outlook.

“I’m incredibly optimistic that, yes, things are rough right now, but we’ve got so much potential and opportunities that we can do great things in the next couple of months.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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