Jotika Shetty , executive director of the Richland County Regional Planning Commission, spoke to Richland County Commissioners Thursday morning about fair housing challenges in the county. 

MANSFIELD -- A document describing Richland County's challenges to fair housing was presented to and approved by Richland County Commissioners Thursday morning. 

Jotika Shetty, executive director for Richland County Regional Planning Commission,  highlighted the organization's findings from when it recently updated its Analysis of Impediments in Richland County and the City of Shelby for Fair Housing, required to be submitted to the state by July 1 for the county to receive funding from the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG).

The program, administered by the Office of Community Development, provides federal funding to communities to address a variety of needs.

"We recognized challenges -- I would not call them impediments -- but they haven't become serious fair housing issues yet," Shetty said. "We did not find anything that really limited people's choices within the county, but we found challenges that if not addressed could become serious issues for the county." 

She said Richland County's aging housing stock causes noteworthy accessibility challenges. Approximately 75 percent of the county's housing was built before 1980, according to the study. 

"After 1980, a lot of the multi-family houses were required to be compatible for people with disabilities," she said. 

With such a significant portion of available housing built without any modifications, it could be difficult to find an appropriate for those with disabilities and the elderly population. 

The study emphasized a need for more affordable owner-occupied and rental housing. Shetty also noted that social service agencies had highlighted concerns about the quality of available housing. 

Commissioner Marilyn John inquired further about this "impediment," presenting data that showed Ohio's housing is considerably more affordable than elsewhere in the United States, including in some surrounding states. 

Shetty said the document is presented this way because less than 30 percent of household income should be spent on housing. That's not consistently the case in Richland County.

Commissioner Tony Vero requested that another impediment listed in the document be revised to read "lack of racial diversity in real estate agents could discourage the filing of fair housing complaints," instead of "private sector practices impede housing choices." 

"I don't see anything in our county or listed in this analysis that would be indicative of that listed impediment... from what I see, that would be a better choice of words," he said, noting conversations with local real estate agents.

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Shetty said Regional Planning had sent letters requesting participation to some realty associations and entities, but did not receive responses.

This alarmed commissioners, as they said, the study would be more complete had it include their input and urged Shetty to take further steps to include those perspectives in future reports. 

"I'm disappointed that you didn't get a better response from the letters that you sent... That's reflected indirectly in this report, because when they don't respond, it doesn't give a full picture of what's going on," John said.

Shetty agreed to the change, and the document was ultimately approved, contingent of this and a few other changes.  

Shetty discussed how coordinating efforts across the county with a purposefully intent to further fair housing choices or "getting everyone on the same playbook" could have a positive impact. This could include supporting public transportation and updating zoning. 

Staff Reporter

Proud Pennsylvania native. Joined the staff in April 2017. Formerly Tracy Geibel.