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New home starts lead to optimism for Franklin County's economy

Written by Vicky Taylor/Chambersburg Public Opinion | Nov 10, 2015 2:41 AM
Franklin_county_housing_starts.jpg

(Courtesy of Chambersburg Public Opinion)

Officials hope new housing projects point to economic growth

(Undated) -- An increase in new housing construction in Franklin County the past two years reflects a growing economy, with jobs that are paying wages that enable workers to qualify for loans, local officials say.

Last year the county's tax assessment office recorded 249 building permits for new residential housing and it looks like this year will be another banner year for builders, at least compared to those years following the burst of the housing bubble nationwide and the recession that followed almost a decade ago.

New housing starts the past two years hark back to the pre-2008 levels, which saw 238 permits in 2007. That peak was followed by a steady decline in new home construction the six years that followed until it reached a low of only 50 new home building permits county wide in 2012.

"The fact that we are getting back to steady growth reflects a growing economy, a growing population and obviously wages that support new housing starts," said Mike Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corp.

Ross said it is not only new housing starts that are establishing a "new normal" for growth in the county, but a recent influx of businesses bringing jobs to the area and keeping the local jobless rate low.

"We are seeing this across the county, in both small projects and large projects," he said. "We are very well positioned in Franklin County and things are looking very promising."

While the housing boom seen in some areas of the county after the turn of the century hasn't returned, Ross thinks the new housing starts since early 2014 are a positive sign that the county's economy is on the upswing.

Ross said he's not sure it will ever get back to those early-to-mid 2000s levels and isn't sure it should, since that housing boom was at least in part fueled by bad lending practices.

Instead, he said county residents should now see steady growth of both the economy and housing opportunities, both in the new homes sector and existing home market.

"The future looks good," he said.

A Dan Ryan Builders home is under construction Wednesday on Bristol Dr. in the Rolling Hills community, Antrim Township.
A Dan Ryan Builders home is under construction Wednesday on Bristol Dr. in the Rolling Hills community, Antrim Township. (Markell DeLoatch -- Public Opinion)

The big winners in the new housing market are led by Antrim Township, which issued 39 building permits for new homes in 2014 and had already issued 27 at the end of this year's third quarter in September.

Township planner Sylvia House said she thinks year-end figures for Antrim will pretty much match last year's new starts.

"We've seen a steady growth (the last two years)," she said. "I think it will stay pretty steady for awhile, but I'm not sure it will reach the boom we had back before the recession."

Neither does Guilford Township Supervisors Chairman Greg Cook, who said his township's 26 new residential housing permits last year and 24 as of the end of October this year are a far cry from the 125 issued in 2004 and again in 2005.

By 2011, those figures had dropped to "just a couple a year," Cook said.

"Economy wise, things are getting a wee bit better every year, but our growth isn't taking off at a fast rate yet," he said.

Builder Mark Flohr, developer of Country Lane and the Falling Spring developments in Guilford Township, said he is seeing "some signs" that demand for new homes is picking up, but he wouldn't call recent housing starts a "boom."

Yet lots are selling, and new home construction is now in many families' future, judging by building permit numbers this year and last.

"Growth has been steady in recent years and we are okay with that," Cook said. "We still have ample land (in Guilford Township) zoned residential and we have two or three subdivision plans in the basement where the developer has not picked them up yet."

Sylvia House had the same take on the growth in Antrim Township, which has slowed down a lot since that municipality was listed as the fastest-growing municipality in Franklin County in the 2010 census.

Greene Township is another municipality leading in new residential housing starts the past two years.

Zoning Officer Dan Bachman said the totals in that township fell steadily after the housing bust that triggered the recession, dropping to a low of 23 in 2011, but have slowly come back up until last year the township had issued 31 permits by the end of the September third quarter, including an eight-unit townhouse project in the Brookmeadow Development. So far this year there have been no requests for townhouses, however.

"Permit issuance for new home construction this year appears to be consistent with last year," he said. As of Sept. 30, 30 permits had been issued.

Those figures are, like in other municipalities, a far cry from the pre-recession boom when in 2006 Greene issued 149 such permits.

The reason might be, as House pointed out, that tighter lending requirements and that new home loans still have pretty stringent requirements, are encouraging people to invest in the property they already have as opposed to building new homes.

Washington Township Planner Clint Rock said that as of the end of October, 32 building permits had been issued in that municipality. A total of 37 were issued in the township by the end of the year in 2014.

"We've grown a little every year since the housing crash," he said. "The housing market seems to be recovering, and that's a sign of good things to come."


This article comes to us through a partnership between Public Opinion Online and WITF.

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