Knox County Development Corp. CEO Chris Pfaff believes Knox County is in the midst of a housing shortage.

Pfaff, a military veteran and Terre Haute resident who took over the KCDC this summer, took his concerns to city council members during Monday night’s regular meeting, noting that KCDC — in partnership with other local agencies — intends to commission a comprehensive study to find exactly where gaps in housing lie.

“I was hired to help grow Knox County, adding residents and jobs. It’s difficult to grow if there’s nowhere to live,” Pfaff said.

Members of council already share his concerns.

“People want to live here, but the problem is they can’t find a place to live,” said council president Tim Salters.

The lack of mid-range housing has been an issue that has plagued elected officials for years.

Administrators with Vincennes University, Good Samaritan Hospital and even the Vincennes Community School Corp. have said time and again that their employees look to neighboring counties for adequate housing as there is little available here.

Census data reveals Knox County has nearly 2,000 fewer residents than just a decade ago, and councilman Marc McNeece noted that this is the first time in nearly a hundred years that the population of Vincennes has dropped below 18,000.

While housing is perhaps only one variable in the dwindling population, Pfaff contends it’s an important one that requires action.

The city’s Redevelopment Commission has actively been looking at ways to address the problem and most recently agreed to partner with Sure Clean Inc. in its $2.5 million endeavor to build 13 new homes in an area just off Hart Street.

The RDC last month, upon hearing Sure Clean’s proposal, agreed to contribute more than $200,000 in infrastructure costs.

The RDC, too, is partnering with a trio of families operating under the name REM Development Group as they look to renovate the Oliphant building, 214 Main St., into condominiums. Financial assistance for them is also possible, but as a first step, the RDC has agreed to transfer to them the Gimbel Corner, a green space at Second and Main streets. The REM Development Group plans to incorporate it in the housing project, specifically through the construction of garage spaces and rooftop terraces, all with faux Main Street facades.

Local architect Andy Myszak and his development team, too, are undertaking the construction of 22 single-family homes on empty lots throughout town. A part of that project, too, is Riverview Lofts, a more than 30-unit housing complex under construction downtown on First Street. Combined, his is a more than $9 million effort, one funded primarily through federal tax credits.

Pfaff said development projects like these are a good start, but they likely won’t be enough to meet the current need.

“The good news is we do have a lot of projects in the pipeline — downtown condos, lofts and apartments and other developments around the county, but I’m not convinced those will be enough,” he said.

So to better address the lack of housing, KCDC plans to hire an outside consultant to determine the need for both single-family homes and rental units, as well as the most desirable price ranges.

“We can get specific data to share with local, and maybe even outside developers, to better understand those price ranges that we’re most in need of,” said Pfaff.

KCDC has already been in talks with local real estate brokers to get an idea of the housing needs and price points.

“We only have 30 listings in the price range of $100,000 — $200,000 for Vincennes and only seven more listings outside the city,” he said.

“There are only 28 listings below $100,000.”

In this seller’s market, potential homebuyers are finding themselves in bidding wars, competing with four or five other buyers — sometimes paying more than asking price to purchase a home.

Mayor Joe Yochum and council members, though, seem encouraged by the data the housing survey will provide.

“I’m so glad to see everyone on board for this,” said Yochum, adding that “the city won’t sit back and let opportunities go by.”

“We’re going to move forward,” he announced.

Salters, too, said he found it reassuring to see so much action being taken by so many entities.

“The need is obviously there,” he said, “and everybody always talks about it, but we’re actually seeing something happen.”

Pfaff told the council that he anticipates the study to begin at the end of this year or in early 2021.
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