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How students really feel about local housing & neighborhoods

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How students really feel about local housing & neighborhoods

MANSFIELD – Finding an affordable house in a blight-free neighborhood might determine if some students stay in the Richland County area after graduating high school.

More than 68 percent of 510 local students – 216 in 12th grade and 294 in either fourth or fifth – listed “affordable housing” and “clean and nice neighborhoods” as factors that would determine where they’ll live post-graduation, according to a survey conducted by Richland Source in the first quarter of 2018.

About 85 percent of high schoolers and 68 percent of elementary students identified the ability to find affordable housing as a factor that would determine where they’ll live. And about 76 percent of high schoolers and 70 percent of elementary students listed “finding a clean and nice” community as another factor.

Finding jobs was the most popular concern from the now-graduated seniors, and safety mattered most to the former fourth and fifth graders, but still, dozens cared about housing and neighborhoods enough to mention both in the open-answer portion of the survey, which stated: “Considering all of the above, what are your thoughts about living in your hometown when you grow up?

What the students said

More than half of students across the board believe their communities offer affordable housing and have clean, nice neighborhoods, according to the Richland Source survey.

About 70 percent of high school students believe that their hometowns “definitely” or “probably” offer affordable housing. And 54 percent of the same group believe their hometowns “definitely” or “probably” have “clean and nice neighborhoods.”

“I would not mind living in my hometown after graduation,” said a Crestview High School senior. “I like my hometown, and as long as I can have a job I like, pays well, and there is affordable and good housing I could live here.”

A Madison High School student admitted a desire to leave but expressed concerned about housing prices elsewhere.

“I want to move somewhere better, but it's scary because of the price of housing in bigger cities,” the student said.

One Mansfield Senior High School student didn’t mention the cost of housing. He instead focused on job opportunities and the condition of neighborhoods.

“It's super boring, there's not a lot of job opportunities here, and the neighborhoods aren't ‘nice’ and ‘clean,’” the student said.

Elementary school students weren’t asked their opinion about housing, as the survey was developed with assistance from area educators who believed it may not be an appropriate or answerable question for the younger group of students.

But they had plenty to say about it in the open-answer portion of the survey. Twenty-seven students included the word “house” or “housing” in their responses.

“That it will be safe, and I can afford a house,” a fifth grader from Ontario’s Stingel Elementary School said.  

A Crestview fifth grader was also among the students that wrote about housing.

“My thoughts about living in my hometown when I grow up are to find a good job that pays well and then get a house that I can afford,” she said.

They also offered opinions about their neighborhoods. About 66 percent said they “definitely” or “probably” believe their community had “nice” and “clean” neighborhoods.

Of those that chimed in on the condition of their neighborhoods, the majority had positive things to say. The largest number of comments came first from Ontario’s Stingel Elementary School and then from Crestview Middle School.

“I love my hometown,” said a Crestview fifth grader. “I feel very safe in my hometown where it is a nice clean neighborhood.”

An Ontario fifth grader believes she’ll have to go elsewhere for college and a job but likes the condition of her neighborhood.

“There are not good enough colleges nearby to be able to become a brain surgeon and have a great career, and there are no places to work nearby to be a great surgeon,” she said. “Ontario is clean and nice. If I were not wanting to be a doctor I would stay.”

Housing prices in Richland County

Buying a house in the Richland County area is certainly more affordable than buying one in a city like Columbus, and even more affordable than other similar-sized places across the country. 

According to information provided by The Holden Agency, the average sales price of a house is $76,476 in the Mansfield Area School District and $97,792 in the Shelby City School District, both in April 2018. 

In Ontario, the average sales price was $150,021, and in Crestview, the average was $171,764 -- the highest in the Richland County area in April 2018. 

The prices fluctuate month to month. In February 2018, the average sales price was $65,500 in Mansfield, $135,000 in Ontario and $109,104 in Crestview. 

But Richland County consistently offers more affordable housing than Columbus. Jerry Holden of The Holden Agency explained the price difference between nearly identical houses in Ontario and Columbus. 

While one home in Ontario is listed for $323,840, the one in Columbus is listed for $452,320. The Mansfield house costs $97 per square foot, and the Columbus one comes in around $155 per square foot. 

"That's about a 29 percent increase in cost for 45 minutes down the road," Holden said.  

He also compared a condominium that sold in Mansfield for $137,000 with a similar one sold in Dothan, Alabama that sold for $153,600.

Dothan, he said, is incredibly proactive about attracting new businesses, which brings in an influx of people and creates a shortage of housing and makes the prices rise.

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The same is true in Columbus.  If a house is posted for sale in Columbus, Holden said, it's possible to have 25 offers by the end of the day.

Condition of Neighborhoods in Richland County

The Richland County Land Bank owns 225 properties, a mix of vacant houses and lots. 

And there's more on the way: Land Bank administrator Amy Hamrick estimates an additional 450 forfeitures are sitting on a list for the land bank to find end users for. Approximately one third of these have structures that need to be demolished.

This isn't uncommon - for instance, Trumbull County, which is similar in population, intends to demolish 450 houses over the next two years.

Click here to read more about how the Richland County Land Bank and other Ohio-based land banks are using their limited resources to clean up eyesores & beautify neighborhoods.

Who was surveyed?

The Richland Source survey included 510 students with 216 in 12th grade and 294 in either fourth and fifth grades. With advice primarily from Shelby Superintendent Tim Tarvin, staff reporters developed survey questions and determined what age groups would best be able to respond.

The intention was to get opinions from high school students, who are immediately thinking about what they’ll do and where they’ll live post-graduation, and elementary school students, who don’t likely have fully formed opinions of their hometowns yet.

Schools participating were Mansfield Senior High School, Mansfield’s Malabar Elementary and Spanish Immersion Schools; Shelby High School and Shelby’s Dowds Elementary School; Ontario High School and Ontario’s Stingel Elementary School; Madison Comprehensive High School; Lucas High School and Elementary School; Lexington Junior High School; Crestview High School and Elementary School; Crestline High School and Galion High School.

Others were invited, but did not participate. These schools include Plymouth High School and Plymouth-Shiloh Elementary School; Mansfield’s Woodland Elementary School, Prospect Elementary School, John Sherman Elementary and Springmill STEM Elementary; Shelby’s Auburn Elementary; Madison’s Eastview, South and Mifflin Elementary Schools; Lexington High School; Crestline Elementary School and Galion Primary School.

Reasons for lack of participation vary. For example, Mansfield City Schools superintendent Brian Garverick chose to send the surveys to two of the district’s multiple elementary schools. Other superintendents expressed concern about affecting instructional time, a situation Lucas High School approached by asking students to answer the surveys from home.

Read more about how students feel about their hometowns here. And follow Rising from Rust for the next articles in this series.

This Solutions Journalism story is brought to you in part by the generous support of our Newsroom Partners: Spherion, Visiting Nurses Association, PR Machine Works, Nanogate/Jay Systems, DRM Productions, OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital, Richland Bank, Mechanics Bank, Area Agency on Aging, and many others. To learn more about Solutions Journalism at Richland Source click the "About Solutions Journalism."

Staff Reporter

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