Newark Rental Housing Needs Assessment Update from the Open House

Newark’s Rental Housing Needs Assessment appears to have an inherent bias that disregards the issues confronting the housing needs and challenges of Newark’s African American community.  The impact of the student rental housing market on families and quality of life is substantial.

The following is re-posted from the Newark Residents Alliance Project:

Last fall the City of Newark embarked on a Rental Housing Needs Assessment with the intention of evaluating the City’s rental housing market and needs. The outcome could include policy recommendations with the potential to guide decision-making on programs and development projects. The assessment is divided into 2 phases, as described on the City’s website.

Phase I

An assessment of student and non-student rental housing needs, including the current rental inventory and a determination of the number of additional units needed to ensure the economic feasibility of the market;

Provide recommendations on the number of additional units needed to meet current and future demand: including the type and location of the units necessary, as well as strategies to update the determination of need as development continues.

Phase II

An assessment of the current home owner assistance programs, single family occupancy and maintenance controls, and downtown mixed use development strategy as a tool to balance the impacts associated with off campus student rental housing growth.

Provide examples of successful programs for the City to investigate regarding promotion of owner-occupancy.

Concerns were raised early on by members of the community, including by the Newark Branch NAACP, about the study’s design and the steering committee developed to guide the process catering to special interests. A Freedom of Information Act Request last fall (for which the City charged over $200 just to look at the documents) revealed those concerns were legitimate, and some changes were made to the process by City Council.

An Open House on October 21, 2014 was added to the assessment schedule to solicit community input into the Phase I study. Several posters were presented to share the preliminary findings of the study. The final Phase I study should be available be the end of the year.

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The consultants have utilized data obtained from the University of Delaware to determine the current utilization of on-campus housing and the demand for off-campus student housing. Freshmen University students who do not live within 3 miles of campus are required to live in dormitories. By the time undergraduate students are upperclassmen, a large majority reside off-campus.

The consultants reported that although the student body is increasing in size, UD has no intention of expanding the dormitory space to increase the proportion of students that can be housed in dormitories.

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Student rentals constitute the large majority of rental housing in the City. To obtain the data for the analysis in this poster, the consultants only looked at the rental permit data and the University student data. Those properties that rent without rental permits (for example, owner-occupied dwellings that rent out rooms), are not accounted for in these numbers. The consultants suggested that incorporating non-permit rentals was beyond the scope of their study.

Interestingly, the 600 English Language Institute students attending the University of Delaware are also not included in this analysis.

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This poster demonstrates the large proportion of students who are residing in rental housing:

  • Market Rate Housing (92%)
    • UD Graduate Students: 29%
    • UD Undergraduate Students: 42%
    • Families: 21%
  • Affordable Housing (8%)
    • Senior Citizens: 4%
    • Families: 2%
    • Section 8 Families: 2%

The study has not considered the impact of non-University of Delaware students who are choosing to reside in the City. Anecdotal evidence suggests that students from area colleges are choosing to reside in Newark for “the scene”. The consultants suggested that any effort to collect data on this was outside the scope of their study.

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This poster goes into greater detail on non-student rental housing. Of a total of 1,370 non-student rental units, 28% are affordable housing for seniors (13%), non-Section 8 families (8%) and Section 8 families (7%).

The information that was gathered by the consultants for the Open House was interesting and useful. However, we need to know more. Some suggestions for the Phase I study include:

  1. Maps: the distribution of housing needs to be understood spatially. Unfortunately, the consultants said that this was outside the scope of their study. They did say that they would aggregate rental housing into 6 planning districts in the City, but dividing the entire City into 6 planning districts to understand the impact of student housing and the rental housing needs is not of adequate resolution for understanding or decision-making. Housing data should be projected on a map, organized by “neighborhoods”, and subjected to spatial analysis (including density analysis). This would enable a comparison of housing needs to transportation and services, which is one of the primary goals of planning.
  2. Characteristics of non-student rentals: Newark is more than just a college town, yet the study is clearly focusing on the UD student rental aspect of Newark’s rental housing needs. Little emphasis has been placed on the non-student rental needs, including their location in the City and whether they strive for home-ownership but are experiencing obstacles to purchasing their own home in the City.
  3. Housing burdens: little or no effort appears to be made to understand if there are housing burdens among student and non-student rentals. A housing burden is experienced when 30% or more of household income is spent on housing costs (rent and utilities). The study seems to assume that the current market for rental housing is an appropriate threshold for the costs of housing in the City.
  4. Quality of life: the study does not consider how the increase of student rentals is changing the character of neighborhoods or impacting quality of life in family-oriented neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the consultants did not seem interested in discussing quality of life issues during the Open House.
  5. Impact of high-density apartment complexes on the rental market in single-family neighborhoods: again, outside the “scope” of the study, is any data collection or understanding of the impact of the rapid development of high-density apartment complexes on the rental housing market in single-family neighborhoods, including deteriorating properties, long-term vacancies, and rents. The consultants expressed their assumption that owners of individual rental properties would make improvements of their properties to compete with “The Retreat”. That is a very unsatisfying answer when we are undertaking what should be an objective and seemingly-scientific study of the rental housing market.
  6. Outreach and community involvement: This study will help shape housing policy in the City for the next decade (or more). Newark residents are eager to be engaged in the research and planning processes of the city, yet this enthusiasm has not yet been adequately embraced by the City.

 

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