Housing survey provides a starting point

Wednesday, September 5, 2001

There wasn't much encouraging news in a recent study on housing in Cape Girardeau commissioned by the Area Wide United Way's Housing Needs Coordinating Committee:

There's more homelessness in this city than one might think.

The average cost of available homes is $90,000. The average income of city residents is $29,793. (Unfortunately, the report did not provide median housing costs or ranges of prices. Area real estate brokers say there is a sizable inventory of low to moderately prices housing -- in the $40,000 range, for example.)

Average rent is $400 a month. And 11 percent of rental units are empty.

Fifty-seven percent of homes in Cape Girardeau are owner-occupied, below the state average of 70 percent and the national average of 66 percent.

While the $2,500 study by Hagar-Mace & Associates of Jefferson City, Mo., contained helpful information, it stopped well short of being a comprehensive analysis of Cape Girardeau's housing situation. Much of it was a rehash of census information available for free to anyone with access to the Internet.

Cape Girardeau's numbers should have been compared to those of other university towns of similar size. It stands to reason that cities with shifting populations of students will have fewer owner-occupied homes. While the 11 percent rental unit vacancy rate is up from 7 percent in 1990, that number will fluctuate wildly depending on when the census forms are distributed and completed.

As for the empty rental units, the report drew the conclusion that too many are substandard or the rent is too high.

However, only two landlords responded to the survey. In a report about why rental and low-income housing is so dismal, wouldn't insight from landlords be valuable?

Then the survey could ask: "Do you refuse to rent to welfare recipients? Would you rather have your unit sit vacant than be occupied by someone on government assistance?"

Without answers to these hard questions, one can't truly get a picture of what's going on with housing in our city.

The United Way group should continue its commitment to addressing problems so that all, regardless of income, can have an livable home.

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