Survey: Many renters say they remain priced out of Johnson County’s housing market

Johnson County rent assistance

Most of those who rent in Johnson County do so because they can’t afford to buy their own home.

That’s according to preliminary results of a countywide housing survey conducted by United Community Services of Johnson County. Some of the survey data will be compiled and presented in the nonprofit’s annual Human Services Summit next week.

Launched by Johnson County, cities within the county and UCS, the 2020 Johnson County Municipalities Community Housing Study is part of a joint study and task force with Johnson County and local cities to collect opinions on housing options from people who live and/or work in the county.

The study’s findings will be used for a 10-year outlook on housing that local officials can use to make policy decisions in the future.

More than 4,500 people completed the Johnson County Community Housing Survey, according to UCS. Respondents were overwhelmingly homeowners: 87% own their home and 13% rent. But of those who rent, the survey shows, most do out of necessity.

“When asked about the availability of housing for various categories of residents in Johnson County, respondents were most likely to say that housing options were inadequate for students, those making under $16 per hour, and those needing to be close to transportation resources,” UCS staff reported of its initial findings.

Nearly 30% of respondents in the housing survey said their monthly rent or mortgage costs are $1,500 or more.

Additionally, respondents who looked into buying a home in the past three years believe there’s an oversupply of homes priced at $400,000 and higher, and an undersupply of homes under $300,000.

Plus, respondents who looked for rental housing found an undersupply of rentals priced at $1,000 or less per month, and an oversupply of rentals priced at $1,500 per month or more.

Seeking more voices from renters, people of color, young adults on housing needs and perspectives

“If I’m not stably housed, or if housing absorbs a disproportionate amount of my household income, how is that impacting other aspects of my health? By not having as many renter responses, we lose some of that voice in the conversation,” said Julie Brewer, executive director of UCS. Above, a file photo of Brewer at last year’s summit.

Kristy Baughman, director of education and planning at UCS, said the nonprofit staff wanted to hear more from renters, communities of color and young adults. Those demographic groups , Baughman said, are more likely to spend a disproportionate amount of income on housing compared with older, white homeowners. 

“I think it’s telling that we’ve struggled so much to reach people who are renters in this population,” Baughman said. “We really did try to reach out to lots of different folks so that we could get in touch with people, but renters, across the board… are hard to reach. That alone tells us that their voices are maybe not being heard as well as homeowners’.

“They’ve got a lot going on right now, too,” Baughman added, citing the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 economic shutdowns on renters and lower-income workers.

Julie Brewer, executive director of UCS, echoed those sentiments, noting that “all voices are important” to the housing conversation, but some populations have less agency in having their voices heard.

This year’s virtual summit will feature interactive elements such as polls and breakout sessions. Above, file photo of the 2019 summit.

“We’d like to make sure that the responses are proportionate to the distribution of age and communities of color and ethnicity throughout our community,” Brewer said. “Also, we recognize there are different populations for whom the housing issue is a bigger factor in their health.”

The findings from the housing survey are in line with information presented at the nonprofit’s summit last year, which delved into the negative impacts of pricing out the county’s workforce and residents constrained by income.

“If I’m not stably housed, or if housing absorbs a disproportionate amount of my household income, how is that impacting other aspects of my health?” Brewer said. “By not having as many renter responses, we lose some of that voice in the conversation.”

Baughman said the survey had a “strong” response rate and includes feedback from each of the 19 cities in the county. Since most of the respondents were homeowners, that “sets the tone” for the rest of the data, she added.

UCS had planned to launch the survey in the spring but delayed it due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Brewer said they hoped to allow residents time to adjust to the pandemic before responding to the survey.

The survey is still open for a few more days in both English and Spanish.

Human Service Summit open to residents to discuss housing in Johnson County

UCS will conduct this year’s Human Service Summit virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic on Wed., Aug. 26, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. UCS is offering a lower rate for residents interested in participating in the virtual summit. Click here to sign up for virtual attendance. The deadline to register is Aug. 21.

The summit will include multiple polls and breakout sessions to increase audience participation and garner feedback in real time. Baughman said she hopes the virtual nature of the summit will make it more accessible to residents who would otherwise be unavailable to participate.

Ahead of the summit, UCS is conducting more than a dozen listening sessions on housing across a spectrum of sectors, beginning Aug. 19. That data will also be compiled with the survey results as part of the housing study, which will be ready to review sometime in December.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that some (not all) of the data from the housing survey will be presented at the Human Services Summit.