A housing study designed to help Oberlin attract and retain residents is due out this month.
The study is being done by Cleveland State University’s Center for Planning and Community Development. Work has included analyzing U.S. Census Bureau data about Oberlin, discussions with a committee of residents that included business people, builders and realtors, and an open house to gather residents’ input. Interviews were also conducted with city workers to find out why they work in Oberlin but choose to live elsewhere.
Among the recommendations in a draft of the study are building more small, one-family, one-floor homes. Some elderly people prefer one floor to avoid stair-climbing. Other recommendations include building more multi-family rental housing, improving street and sidewalk safety to encourage more bicycling and walking, and updating housing codes to increase energy efficiency, maintenance, and renovations.
“Your housing stock is a big part of Oberlin’s character and it’s a big part of the value of being in Oberlin,” Kirby Date, the center’s community planning and development program manager, told study committee members last month. “You do have older housing stock, that if you let it go (deteriorate) too much further, you’re going to start losing houses.”
Also recommended was setting a goal of attracting five percent of people who work in Oberlin, but live elsewhere — about 300 people — to move here.
There are about 5,600 employees in the 44074 zip code, which includes parts of New Russia and Pittsfield townships. About 53 percent live outside of Oberlin, according to the study.
Date, who conducted the interviews and is overseeing the study, said Oberlin should try to attract recent Oberlin College graduates to move or stay here. However, she said most millennials — people born between 1981 and 1997 — prefer living in bigger cities like Cleveland rather than Oberlin because bigger cities have more amenities and nightlife. Date said people attracted to Oberlin tend to be middle-aged or elderly and appreciate the city’s culture, short walking distance to businesses and events, and Oberlin’s environmental commitment.
The study also suggests establishing rental registrations and landlord agent designations to increase the landlord accountability. Date recommended the city work more closely with community development corporations like Zion Community Development Corporation to promote maintenance, renovations, and weatherization of homes.
“They have more flexibility, they’re able to be nimble, they can leverage their nonprofit status, and they can really work with folks to help develop partnerships and so on,” she said.
Because Oberlin only has a population of about 8,300, Date cautioned that study data has large margins for error and that housing growth is tied to the regional economy which can be volatile.
Despite the caveats, Mark Chesler, a frequent local government critic, denounced the study draft at a Dec. 5 city council meeting. Chesler noted the draft erroneously said all of Oberlin’s rental apartment complexes were built before 1980. He said it failed to mention a few complexes built since 1980 including the West College Apartment complex built in 1996 and the complex at 116 East Lorain St., built in 2002.
Chesler also said the draft erroneously said Oberlin’s only condominiums are at Reserve Square, failing to mention condominiums on East College Street.
He said in a written statement that the draft is “riddled, littered, and replete with patently erroneous statements and flagrant errors.”
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.