Bloomington mayor unveils affordable housing plan to counteract IU effect

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind.-- It's move-in day in Bloomington as thousands of Indiana University students return to Monroe County and campus to begin fall classes.

Developers and apartment owners know those students, and their parents, will pay an average of $897 per month for rent, the highest rate in the state of Indiana, and Mayor John Hamilton knows it, too.

“Affordable housing is one of the fundamental building blocks of a successful city,” he said. “We like having a strong real estate market but we have to make sure our city works for the full diversity of people who make Bloomington what Bloomington is.”

What Bloomington is is a city with an average home sale price of $156,000, 33 pecent above the state average, and a median annual income of just under $30,000 with a mayor who is afraid that low- and moderate-income residents are being priced out of the home ownership market.

“We like the idea that people of all different kinds are sharing a neighborhood. That doesn’t happen automatically,” said the mayor. “If we don’t have these kinds of strategies, the diversity of people in Bloomington, our economy and culture will change.”

Hamilton unveiled a list of pilot proposals to enact an overall strategy of making home ownership in Bloomington more affordable.

The plans include more in-law type single apartments built on existing properties, tiny houses of approximately 400 square feet, market-rate housing set aside in larger developments, cooperative housing and various incentives to encourage developers to build such housing.

The mayor convinced the developer of the Dunn Hill project, which will bring housing for 750 students to a site near the IU campus, to provide $1 million in funding that will support the various affordable housing strategies.

“That will make us better in the future and that will be one of our great strengths,” said Hamilton.

Longtime affordable housing advocate Toby Strout agreed.

“I think the university really drives up real estate and rental costs. It's been a long term problem and hasn’t really had a very focused solution,” she said.  “We have watched student housing go up like crazy in our communities and, with fewer students living on campus and more students living in the community, it not only drives up costs, it changes the ambiance.”

The city recently announced the receipt of federal funds to provide mortgage default, reverse mortgage and home purchase counseling for residents struggling in the housing market.