Workers struggle to find housing in Tuscarawas County amidst strong labor market
New jobs in manufacturing, healthcare and other industries are being created in Tuscarawas County, but workers have a hard time finding housing in the county due to low housing stock.
There isn't available land to build new homes, and the number of houses listed for sale are limited, which is a challenge for potential employees when they’re debating whether to relocate to the area, said Jason Johnson, senior vice president of business development at Lauren International in New Philadelphia.
A 14-acre piece of land in Dover was purchased two months ago by Jarod Lawver, developer and owner of Lawver homes.
“We plan to extend water and sewer and infrastructure up and all through it here and put in 30 houses,” he said.
His purchase is part of the solution to the need for available housing in Tuscarawas County. Lawver said that city lots with city water and sewer are hard to come by, and people are desperate to find them.
“Honestly, people are finding and buying lots that are still available because people 20 years ago didn’t want them,” Lawver said.
He said he plans to subdivide the newly acquired land into three different-sized lots ranging in price from $300,000 to $500,000. He’s working with the city of Dover, which will be providing reimbursement of public infrastructure costs totaling around $1.2 million.
Dover Mayor Shane Gunnoe said that traditional economic development doesn’t usually include housing, but that’s changed for Tuscarawas County. He said prospective businesses always ask the same question.
“How many available workers are there in your city and if not, where can I build new housing to bring and hopefully bring new workers in? And the answer right now is we’re limited in the number of workers due to the relatively strong economy, and we are limited in where we can put new housing,” Gunnoe said.
A committee of 13 stakeholders, including city officials, business owners, realtors and housing developers, such as Lawver, formed in Tuscarawas County earlier this year to help find land that can be developed into housing. Marla Akridge, executive director of the Tuscarawas County Economic Development Corporation, said that Cleveland Clinic Union Hospital in Dover and local manufacturing companies have told her team about the barriers potential doctors and engineers from other cities face when trying to find somewhere to live in the county.
“Our mission is to figure out the land that could be used for those type of subdivisions or I’ll say higher end homes but then also targeting apartment complexes [and] duplexes,” Akridge said.
Seven-hundred and sixty companies in Tuscarawas County posted new job openings in 2022, according to a report by the economic development group Team Northeast Ohio.
Johnson said that local manufacturing companies are each adding around 25 new jobs within the next two years, a total of 1,000 jobs, which may have to be recruited from elsewhere.
“And the biggest problem with that is when they get here there’s nothing for them, no housing for them. Even rental housing, short term or even longer term, is nearly nonexistent.”
He said some new hires find housing in Stark or Holmes County and then commute to Tuscarawas County for work.
At McInturf Realty, owner Jan McInturf said he often shows homes to doctors moving to the area.
Before 2019, McInturf could show four houses at a time to a potential buyer, but now he hopes to show one. It comes down to landowners, he said. Those who are willing to connect to city water and sewer and “get them to be willing to sell their property, which sometimes I get it, they don’t want to. It maybe a family farm that’s been in the family for generations.”
On the northwest side of the county, bordering Stark County, is Provia. It’s a manufacturing company in the village of Strasburg that makes roofing and windows for houses.
The mayor of Strasburg, Steven Smith, found potential land.
“There’s 110 acres, 110 to 115 acres of land that’s being auctioned off in parcels just northwest of the village here,” he said. “Which would really benefit, if housing could be developed there, it would benefit Provia.”
The company employs just under 900, according to Provia’s executive director of corporate engagement Joe Klink. He said more than half of the employees live in Tuscarawas County. About 12% live in Stark County.
Back in Dover, Gunnoe said it’s been about 15 years since a new housing development.
Lawver plans to break ground this fall once city permits are approved. He hopes to start selling lots in March 2024 and wants to build 10 houses per year over three years.