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‘People want to live here’

Local governments see growth opportunities in demand for housing

Will County Board member Amanda Koch said she wants to address local housing needs because of what she saw on the campaign trail while knocking on her constituents’ doors.

She said she encountered several multigenerational homes where young adults said they wanted to live close to loved ones, but weren’t able to find an affordable house of their own in Will County. That’s why Koch said she pushed for an ad-hoc committee at the County Board to study and come up with “modern housing solutions.”

“What I would like to see is young professionals find housing that’s attractive to them and their family to fit their lifestyle,” Koch said.

Koch, D-Frankfort, said that building attainable housing could also attract both employees and employers from diverse fields and bring more high quality jobs to Will County.

Judy Panozzo, a real estate broker from New Lenox and the president of the Three Rivers Association of Realtors, said she thinks there is a great need for entry-level housing in Will County. She said she hoped municipalities would look into that by possibly changing regulations to allow for more attainable housing to be built.

“There has to be housing where you want our entry-level workers to be living in the community,” Panozzo said.

She said one municipality that she has seen being active in developing entry-level housing is Romeoville, which has seen construction of multiple apartment complexes in recent years. Romeoville Mayor John Noak said the units have filled up quickly.

Noak said developers have also made sure to include amenities that younger renters desire, such as high-speed internet and access to recreational attractions for a healthier lifestyle. He said providing quality, attainable housing and amenities can attract higher-quality employers who want to be near that type of workforce.

“It shows how the marketplace is evolving,” Noak said.

While the entire state has seen significant changes in the housing market over the past couple of decades, the changes locally have been especially drastic, said Doug Pryor, vice president of the Will County Center for Economic Development.

In the years before the 2008 recession, nearly one-fifth of all the single family homes built in Illinois were built in Will County. At a time when the county held only 4% of the state’s population, that type of growth was “just extraordinary,” Pryor said.

The number of residential building permits plunged during the recession, and although the number has steadily risen in the past few years, it remains well off the prerecession totals.

In the 10 years before the recession, there were anywhere from 7,000 to more than 8,000 new residential building permits issued in Will County each year, and there was even a high of more than 9,000 permits issued in 2003.

During the recession, the annual numbers plummeted to the 500 to 600 range. In the past three years or so, the numbers have rebounded to about 1,300 to 1,700 permits issued each year.

Despite more new houses being built in recent years, the total sales are down over the past couple of years because of a low inventory of existing homes. Pryor said that means once houses in Will County are put on the market, they aren’t there for long.

With Will County having a lower share of new multifamily units compared with other Chicago-area counties, Pryor said that he sees opportunities for municipalities to invest more to meet the demand.

“People want to live here,” Pryor said. “There’s a lot of positive in that narrative, but it also looks like today, we’ve got some opportunities to do more.”