MANSFIELD -- Richland County commissioners on Tuesday approved spending up to $40,000 as part of a comprehensive countywide housing study in 2022.
The study, estimated to cost $100,000, will be done through the Richland County Regional Planning Commission, though it will be done in collaboration with other groups.
It's expected to take eight to nine months to complete with the hope of beginning in January, according to organizers.
Jotika Shetty, executive director from RCRPC, met with commissioners, joined by representatives from Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development, Richland County Foundation, City of Mansfield, Area Agency on Aging, the Richland County Land Bank, Catholic Charities and the Mansfield Metropolitan Housing Authority.
Shetty said the North End Community Improvement Collaborative is also participating in the effort.
Shetty said the group will also seek funds from the City of Mansfield ($20,000), Ontario ($10,000), Shelby ($10,000), Lexington ($5,000) and Bellville ($5,000).
Adrian Ackerman, Mansfield's community development director, said the city may also contribute an additional $10,000 from its federal HOME funds.
Shetty said it was a perfect time for such a study, given the influx of federal dollars flowing into the region from the American Rescue Plan Act.
"We want to create an action plan for the entire county," Jetty said. "A comprehensive look at countywide and individual (governmental) jurisdictions is going to be critical."
The study will look at areas such as demographics, need for housing types, coordination of services, rental housing, housing insecurity, aging housing stock, new housing development and housing programs.
According to the group, the study will analyze the housing stock and housing market in Richland County, inventory existing housing resources, identify gaps in the housing market, identify trends that may affect the housing market over time and assist in the development of strategies to address current and future needs.
Jetty and others at the meeting pointed out federal and state grant funding would be more available once the study is complete and data is available to agencies offering the funds.
"We want to have a unified strategy," she said. "We want to collaborate and stack funding for growth in the housing market."
In terms of ARPA fund usage, Shetty said that housing is one of three key areas cited by the Greater Ohio Policy Council, along with business development and transportation.
Jetty said "appropriate housing stock" is paramount in terms of attracting businesses to the area and to workforce development.
"This group will stay engaged and continue to meet and steer the process and the strategies," Shetty said.
Jodie Perry, CEO and president of the chamber, said the effort is essential to economic growth.
"As we compete in a global market to attract and retain businesses and talent to Richland County, it is crucial to have a variety of housing options available for our workforce," Perry said.
RCPC will request proposals from consultants to do the work with the hope of having a contract signed in January.
"We are fairly confident in this ($100,000) price range," said Jessica Gribben, economic development liaison to the City of Shelby and northern Richland County for the chamber.
Commissioner Tony Vero said said a visible rise in homelessness in the City of Mansfield is evidence of an issue with housing in the area.
"You don't have be a consultant or work in the housing industry to know there is a situation going on in this country and around this community," he said.
Also on Tuesday, Joe Trolian, executive director of Richland County Mental Health & Recovery Services, presented a community partnership award to commissioners for their assistance in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In November, commissioners appropriated $94,986.92 in CARES Act funds to boost technology for agencies support by the the county mental health organization.
The approval meant improved services for local mental health agencies, many of which were ill-equipped to provide quality tele-services when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Ohio, according to Trolian.
"This award is in honor of your continued support through the pandemic to our most vulnerable populations," Trolian said Tuesday. "You helped us a critical time and your (funding) made a difference to a lot of agencies that otherwise could not have afford the technology."
The funds assisted agencies like Catalyst Life Services, Community Action for Capable Youth, Family Life Counseling, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mansfield UMADAOP, Healing Hearts Counseling Center and Abraxas Ohio.
Trolian said all of these agencies provide services to the community in an outpatient or community setting significantly affected by COVID-19. The funds helped to purchase laptops, conference cameras, flat-screen monitors, and other technology.