Town, county leaders working to define, attract ‘affordable’ housing

Before Nick Schultz could put a sign in front of his house, he had a buyer.

He and his wife had bought the house at a foreclosure sale and fixed it up. Schultz estimated they at least doubled the value of the property near downtown Nashville; it sold in the $150,000 range.

“I actually sold it for a little bit less than I think I could have got for it, because I felt his pain,” Schultz said.

The buyer — a neighbor’s friend — had been searching for two years. Despite good credit, a steady job and cash on hand for a down payment, every house that didn’t have something terribly wrong with it would be under contract before he could even look at it, Schultz said.

Even though the Schultzes, who are in their 30s, upgraded for their next home into the $190,000 range, finding a home in Brown County that didn’t require a lot of work was no easier than before, he said.


Nashville and Brown County redevelopment commission representatives agree: if Brown County, with the highest median age in the state, is to grow, young families and professionals need homes they can afford.RDC members from both groups often speak of “affordable” housing, yet they are not talking about the low-income housing for which the term is commonly used.

Bob Kirlin, an agent with Hills O’ Brown real estate and member of the Nashville Redevelopment Commission, believes closely spaced houses with garages in the $150,000 range are what could attract or keep young professionals and their families here.

A formal housing study would show a home builder whether homes like that would sell and whether a project here would be profitable, he said.

The town and county groups met in June to talk about doing such a study together, but haven’t gotten back together since.

Tom Vornholt, managing broker at Hills O’ Brown Realty, said the setting and features of a home are at least as important as price.

Buyers of all ages come to Brown County looking for a Brown County-style home, not just a home in Brown County.

He confirmed one of the most sought price ranges is between $120,000 and $150,000.

Not having enough housing in that range without major flaws is to be expected due to the age of the houses, he said.

That’s one of the reasons the town and county redevelopment commissions have been talking about developing new housing — and if developing separate houses is unrealistic, then duplexes or other multifamily structures, said county RDC President Dave Redding.


Brown County Redevelopment Commission member Bruce Gould has done some preliminary talking with developers who build in other areas.Their houses start around $156,000 — close to the target range for entry-level Brown County buyers.

But that price assumes building on a large scale, in subdivisions of 50 or more houses, and with utilities like sewer readily accessible.

Developers Gould talked with won’t consider a site that can’t accommodate at least that many homes and is ready to connect to a sewer system, he said.

While some land in Gnaw Bone or near Nashville is not far from existing sewer lines, there are no sites immediately ready for development, he said.

Developers aren’t going to build housing on the promise that a sewer line will be run that direction, so local government will likely need to build infrastructure before a builder is willing to break ground, Gould said.

Neither the town or county have that kind of money, and any expansion of an existing sewer system or creation of a new one is going to require navigating the long and competitive grant process.


Looking for a more immediate solution, Gould turned to something he has experience with: rehabilitating older houses.The house that he and his wife, Pam, live in is one they bought at a significantly reduced price. There was nothing seriously wrong with it; it was a second or third home abandoned by wealthy owners, he said.

An Indiana Department of Local Government Finance online database shows several sheriff sale properties here that were sold for about half their assessed value.

So, Gould is proposing the county, town and school district come together to form a public benefit corporation to buy and rehab some of those properties.

This year, Indiana became the 28th state in the U.S. to create a legal standing for such groups.

A public benefit corporation isn’t a nonprofit. It’s a profit-based corporation that has a clear public benefit outlined in its bylaws.

Its purpose here could be providing middle-income housing to meet an identified need, Gould said. This would give the group a basis for not selling the houses to someone who looking for an investment property rather than their primary home.

This also would help to address the blight of deteriorating homes around the county, Gould said.

As the value of the homes came up, they would help spread the property tax burden out — not to mention the increased local income tax revenue from adding to the local resident workforce instead of having would-be buyers commute, Gould said.

If the benefit corporation only rehabbed 10 houses a year, he estimated that could add 20 new students to local public schools, reversing the trend of decline in enrollment.

If local government provided as little as $80,000 in seed money, the corporation could get started almost immediately, he said. Once the first house was sold, the money would be rolled back into the next house.

Because the corporation would be for-profit, it also could seek private investment, Gould said. It might also be eligible for grants.

With the help of volunteers and guidance from groups such as Habitat for Humanity on best practices, Gould feels confident a public benefit corporation could provide almost immediate relief to the local housing crisis.

Parallel paths

When Gould shared his ideas with the county redevelopment commission July 18, the response was generally positive.However, other RDC members and members of the audience wanted to continue attracting new home builders, too.

County RDC member and electrical contractor Jim Schultz, Nick’s father, said he worries many of the houses in Brown County would require extensive work to make them livable. Still, he liked the idea of adding housing to the market while also eliminating abandoned or deteriorating houses.

“There’s a lot of homes out there that stay for sale for a reason,” Nick Schultz said. “And those happen to be a majority of the inventory out there.”

At a glance

Properties sold in 2015 in Brown County, excluding vacant land:

77 between $120,000 and $150,000

277 over $150,000

Source: Indiana Department of Local Government Finance online database

County resident comparison by age

Brown County

  • 15,242 total
  • 21 percent under 18
  • 79 percent 18 and older
  • 31 percent 15 to 44
  • 48.1 median age, highest in Indiana

Bartholomew County

  • 76,794 total
  • 25 percent under 18
  • 75 percent 18 and older
  • 39 percent 15 to 44
  • 38.2 median age

Monroe County

  • 137,974 total
  • 16 percent under 18
  • 84 percent 18 and older
  • 56 percent 15 to 44
  • 28.7 median age, lowest in Indiana

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

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Ben Kibbey is a Brown County transplant from the cornfields of central Ohio. He covers county government, business, outdoors, sports and general news.