A city’s motto can tell a lot about the area. For Defiance, it’s motto -- a great place to live -- rings true, so true in fact, it has caused a bit of a challenge.
“I’ve had multiple people say they chose to move to Defiance from one place or even another state, and they are not looking back,” said Mayor Mike McCann. “They like it (here) very much.”
He said it’s easy to see why so many people want to live in the city. “We’ve worked hard to improve quality of life, have a really low crime rate, good school systems (with Defiance City, Ayersville and Tinora) and more. … I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want to live here.”
With so many people wanting to live in the city, it has caused a housing shortage. “There’s a house that goes up here and there,” McCann said. “As far as a new subdivision, we’re struggling to find land close to the city for sale. We have residential developers wanting to build (here) but need land.”
McCann said officials have sat down with developers and driven all around the city and even left its boundaries to find a suitable area for a new housing development. “We have to be careful when we view property (outside the city),” the mayor said. While city officials are willing to work with other municipalities, it has to be economical to get the infrastructure in place for potentially new subdivision sites.
The city is working to address the housing issue. Housing is so important that it has its own pillar/committee under Defiance’s strategic plan. Erika Willitzer, executive director of the Defiance County Economic Development Office, said housing is imperative for any community and that Defiance is right to be addressing the issue so fully. “The communities who have a well thought out housing strategy for the future will win the workforce,” Willitzer said. “That strategy has to include building relationships with landowners to a point where they have an open mind. We need to communicate what a pivotal role they can play in growth for Defiance.”
Liz Keel, housing coordinator for the Maumee Valley Planning Organization and leader of the housing pillar of the Defiance Strategic Planning Committee, said many people are working to address the housing issue. Keel said that realtors, bankers, developers, organizational leaders and others on the housing committee. “We’re always talking about the community as a whole and how housing fits in,” she said. “We’re one of many groups that collaborate to improve our city. We want people to live here and are trying to fill the gaps (that prevent that from happening).
Willitzer praised the mayor and housing committee for their work. “Their biggest hurdle is getting willing landowners who want to sell,” she said. “We have developers willing, but we can’t access the land to develop. That’s a concern, and it’s a mindset change that needs to happen, if we want to get our workforce eco-system in balance.”
Keel echoed her statement. “Developers want to come in and need to have enough land to build,” Keel said. She pointed out there are a lot of costs associated with that including ensuring the infrastructure is in place for such endeavors. Keel said another of the biggest challenges to housing in Defiance is affordability, particularly for those in the lower- to moderate-income brackets. However, finding housing can be difficult across all income levels. “It’s frustrating,” Keel said.
McCann said a housing analyst done by Premier Bank and Keller Logistics several years ago, found there was a need for more housing across the board. “There is a demand for everything,” he said.
Realtor Karol Yeager sits on the housing committee. During a recent meeting, she presented statistics pinpointing that there were only 28 homes listed in the city for sale. “It’s an extremely low number,” Yeager said. “We’re in a very low inventory market. It (the number of homes for sale) can change by the hour. Because of the market, there is competition. If they (potential buyers) put in an offer, there may be two or
three others.” Yeager said she is happy to be part of the housing committee because it helps her “know information about the community I live in and help people move (in) to.”
There are several projects being discussed to help with the housing issue, while officials seek out more land for potential subdivisions.
Among those projects are the 1918 school building downtown. There is talk to develop that into a boutique hotel or a senior housing facility. City officials are working with potential investors on that project.
McCann said there is some land on Perry Street south of the city hall that is being looked at as well for a possible multi-family site. While those projects will help ease some of the housing shortage, work will continue to establish a new subdivision in the city limits.
The mayor said ideally, in five years he would like to see a housing development with 50-100 new affordable homes and curbed streets in the city. “The only way we can grow the town is to have more housing opportunities,” McCann