MANSFIELD — The Richland County Regional Planning Commission hopes to use $50,000 in state grant funds to begin work on two goals identified in a recent housing study, including an effort to unify zoning terminology across all of the county’s townships.

“Developers often struggle with these different zoning techs because they’re so different,” RCRPC Executive Director Jotika Shetty told county commissioners on Thursday during a public hearing regarding the county’s $288,000 allocation in 2023 Community Development Block Grant funds.

Richland County Housing Assessment

She said the goal was to create uniformity that would aid developers interested in building in different portions of the county.

“Does an R-1 residential (zoning) in one township reflect an R-1 residential in another township? If it does, then a developer knows that if he’s developing in Springfield Township (and) developing in Washington Township, he would have to meet the same requirements,” Shetty said.

The unified zoning goal was identified in the Richland County Housing Needs Assessment and Action Plan created during 2022 and rolled out in January.

The steering committee that helped to drive the first countywide housing plan has said cleaning up the zoning codes among cities, villages and townships would be an early goal.

Michael Webb, who helped lead the housing study for the consulting company, Community Science, told local leaders cleaning up and unifying zoning is key to attracting housing developers.

Shetty said RCRPC would would request $30,000 for the work.

“There was to be a deliverable at the end. So what I am envisioning is a model township regulation and then the townships could consider adopting that model,” Shetty said.

Housing study highlights

In his overview of the broader study, consultant Michael Webb offered five interesting numbers from the housing inventory:

— 67 percent of Richland County residents own their own homes. Highest ownership rates are in Ontario and rural townships (79 percent). Lowest rates are found in Mansfield (51 percent) and Shelby (58 percent).

— 21 percent of renters in Richland County are severely cost-burdened, meaning more than 3,000 local renter households pay more than 50 percent of their income toward rent and utilities. In addition, 44 percent of readers are cost-burdened, paying more than 30 percent of income toward rent and utilities.

— 2,000 mobile homes are in use in Richland County, primarily in urban and rural townships. There are also a substantial number of mobile homes in Mansfield and Shelby.

— 45 percent of housing units in the county were built before 1960. Rural townships, Mansfield and Shelby have the largest stock of very old housing units (pre-1939). Bellville, Lexington and Ontario have some of the newest housing stocks (more than a third built after 1980).

— 2,438 residential units are vacant in the county, about 4.1 percent of all residential units. This number has declined from the 5.4 percent seen in 2012. Mansfield and Shelby have the largest proportion of vacant units.

RCRPC will also seek to use $20,000 from the grant for another goal identified in the survey — finding ways to beef up the workforce involved in building trades that could help in the rehab/redevelopment of existing housing stock.

“The steering committee has been looking into seeing if there is a program for people, especially those coming out of recovery and looking for re-entry, working with the building unions,” Shetty said.

She said the goal was to help teach building skills that can be used to fix up some of the houses the Richland County Land Bank may acquire, creating a rehabilitation program.

The study found there has been so little housing development in recent years in the county that it has created a dearth among workers to do the jobs.

According to the study, Richland County needs to add more than 5,000 housing units in the next decade to sustain its population growth and to lay the groundwork for future economic development needs.

Working to expand the building trades workforce is essential to that growth, Shetty said.

Shetty said RCRPC will submit its CDBG application to the state by June 14. It will also include the following requests:

— $110,000 to replace two aging boilers at the Richland County Dayspring Assisted Living & Care Facility.

— $75,000 for Richland County Transit to continue reduced bus fares and dial-a-ride services for disabled and elderly residents.

— $53,00 to help administer the Fair Housing program along with the City of Mansfield.

Shetty said the agency is usually informed by September if the grant application has been accepted.

Chuck Hahn, Cleveland Financial Group, invests in this independent reporting through a Newsroom Partnership. Learn more about Newsroom Partnerships.

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