Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Housing in Cuyahoga County

The PD reports today that the Cuyahoga County Treasurer's Office will be helping out Shaker Heights with new home improvement loans. The County already has a program that offers qualified home-owners up to $200k in low-interest home improvement loans. This new program, however, specifically helps out Shaker Heights. The idea, if I've understood it right, goes like this: Shaker issues municipal bonds to fund home improvements; the County in turn buys those loans (effectively loaning Shaker the cash to fund the improvements). If all goes well, Shaker sees its housing stock improve and everybody wins.

Maintaining (and improving) housing stock appears to be a key tenet of economic development philosophy. I'm certainly willing to believe it--if quality-of-life begins in the home, it makes sense to support home improvement.

All of this got me thinking: what is the state of housing in Cuyahoga County? Let's consider the various ways to measure it...

Of course, there's quantity. In yesterday's PD we learn that the Census Bureau found only a 0.6% increase in the county's total housing stock. For comparison's sake, Delaware County reports a 34.5% increase. If you're really curious, you can see a snapshot (five years old, admittedly) of median house values in the County here. In light of this miniscule growth in housing units, should we conclude that Cuyahoga County is falling behind? Are more houses a sign of economic growth?

Conventional wisdom, appears, concludes that absolute growth (in housing, for instance) corresponds to economic growth. But I'm skeptical--what about other measures of economic output, such as productivity or income?

What about measuring housing density? As housing density increases, local populations may reach critical thresholds necessary to support local business. Such growth may also reach critical thresholds necessary for feasible mass transit. The growth in local business, as well as availability of mass transit, may in turn attract residents to a neighborhood. This scenario illustrates how a quantitative shift (in this case growth in housing density) can lead to a qualitative shift (the birth of a neighborhood and its higher quality-of-life). At this point, I would glad post a link to a map of the County's population density; unfortunately, I don't think the Census website lets you perform that specific search. Alas...

Anyway, my point is this: it's important to remember that measuring a region's housing stock is a complicated business. Besides the absolute number of homes, you have to take into account their quality (as the Treasurer's Office does!) as well as density.

I'll leave it at that for now...


Blogger John Ettorre said...

Yours is an interesting new voice in the online conversation, Stephen. Welcome.

2:04 PM  

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