Cumberland County saw an uptick in building permits for residential units in 2018, but a slowdown in residential development plans submitted, creating an uncertain future for the county’s chronically tight housing market.
Data released by the county’s planning department on Tuesday, as part of it’s annual growth trends report, showed 1,482 new residential units getting building permits in 2018, up from 1,023 in 2017.
But the number of units proposed this year dropped. Only 773 new housing units were submitted for planning and zoning review last year, as opposed to 1,524 in 2017.
While 42 percent of the residential building permits issued in 2018 were for multifamily units, only 30 percent of the new plans submitted for review last year were for multifamily housing, indicating a future slowdown in growth outside of single-family homes.
Difficulty for renters and first-time home buyers in finding affordable housing in Cumberland County has long been cited as a problem.
The county operates a program that provides financial assistance with down payment and closing costs to first-time home buyers who are below certain income levels.
But working families who have qualified for the program have an increasingly difficult time finding homes in their price range, said Tim Whelan, executive director the Cumberland County Housing and Redevelopment Authorities.
“We’ve got a good number of people who have been searching for some time period,” Whelan said. “That still seems to be an issue with limited inventory, especially at the lower end of the price range.”
Data from the Greater Harrisburg Association of Realtors also shows the housing market tightening, particularly on the less expensive end of the market.
The median price of a home sold in March 2019 in the Cumberland-Perry-Dauphin market was up to $179,900 versus $169,900 in March 2018. Cumberland County specifically saw its median home price jump from $187,000 in March of last year to $207,500 in March 2019.
The number of homes available in all three counties has also declined, with a total inventory of 660 listing in Cumberland County for March 2019, according to GHAR, compared to an inventory of 1,248 listings one year earlier.
Low inventory and rising prices have reduced the total number of sales as well as the amount of time a home stays on the market, with the effect being more acute at the lower end.
Residences sold in the under-$200,000 bracket in the tri-county region dropped from 381 last March to 276 in March 2019, and average days on market dropped from 70 to 54.
Conversely, homes in the $300,000 to $399,000 range saw an increase in sales and market times over the same time span, from 48 units to 58 units and from 71 days to 80 days.
The affordable housing crunch has also been felt in the rental market. Data from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve shows that the tri-county region has seen rental costs grow faster than income for working-class families.
In the Philadelphia Fed’s 2007-11 survey set, 61 percent of families in the region who make 80 percent or less of the region’s median family income were paying 30 percent or more of their earnings in rent. For the 2012-16 survey set, that number increased to 66 percent.
Over the same time scale, the number of affordable and available units for that population dropped, from 110 units per 100 renter households in the 2007-11 data to 104 in 2012-16.
For households making 50 percent or less of the region’s median family income, the number of available affordable units dropped from 74 per 100 households in the earlier data set to 67 units in the latter. Median family income in the tri-county region, estimated by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development from Census Bureau surveys, is $75,230.
The county’s development data also said that 2018 saw only one plan submitted for new apartment housing, a 36-unit proposal in Upper Allen Township.
The county’s faster-growing townships have seen contentious zoning battles over the inclusion of higher-density apartment housing, limiting the introduction of new units to feed market demand and lower costs.
Last month, the Silver Spring Township commissioners tabled a request to increase the density allowance for a parcel adjacent to Lawrence Chevrolet, which would’ve permitted a plan for 144 units in six apartment blocks to be built on the 19-acre site.
The request was opposed by residents of Rivendell, a single-family development located behind the proposed apartment site. Homeowners said the apartments would lower their home values and feared that the new residents would trespass on their property and “disservice” the surrounding schools.