HANCOCK COUNTY — The phone doesn’t seem to ever stop ringing.
Juanita Henderson fields calls daily from people looking for a place to live and hoping Prairie Meadows, an income-based housing community on Greenfield’s west side, has an opening.
In Hancock County, rental options are limited — data shows 95 percent of the county’s apartments for rent were full last year; that’s up 8 percentage points from 2009, when occupancy rates averaged 87 percent, according to Tikijian Associates, an Indianapolis-based brokerage firm specializing in apartments.
Today, Henderson, the area manager for the Pedcor Management Group, which owns Prairie Meadows, is grateful the complex recently finished an expansion. Last year, about 97 percent of the complex’s apartments were full, so she had to turn many of the visitors to the leasing office away.
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Finding housing for rent in Greenfield is becoming more difficult, officials say. There are about 2,000 apartments in the county’s three largest communities, Greenfield, Fortville and McCordsville, data shows; only about 93 were vacant in 2016.
That makes it difficult for families who need a place to live but aren’t ready to commit to buying a home or can’t afford to.
Officials countywide are concerned, saying sufficient housing options that include rentals are critical to drawing families and young professionals to move to Hancock County.
Greenfield city planner Joanie Fitzwater said she’s not surprised to hear apartment complexes are nearly full. It’s an issue her office has studied.
Greenfield’s 2015 comprehensive plan, a blueprint for the city’s development over the next 10 years, notes the need for additional units that meet a variety of income levels, she said.
Over the past few years, many of the new apartment complexes that have opened, like Bluestone, were rented out before construction was even finished; that suggests those communities provided some much-needed rental options, Fitzwater noted.
Greenfield has a high number of renters compared to other communities around the state, she said.
Census data shows about 34 percent of housing units in Greenfield are occupied by renters, five percentage points higher than the state level of 30. In Greenfield, some 6,500 people reside in rental properties, the data shows.
To meet that demand, many older homes in city limits have been converted to apartments for rent, but that’s still not enough, Fitzwater said.
Prairie Meadows, one of the city’s newest complexes, recently finished construction on its second phase, opening an additional 76 units that have helped alleviate their space crunch — for now, Henderson said.
Henderson expects the apartments to fill as quickly as the first 100 units the group built; construction began on phase one in 2008, and the occupancy rate for those units now hangs at about 97 percent, she said.
The complex doesn’t have a formal waiting list, but Henderson said people regularly call to ask about openings.
“When someone moves out, we always have someone waiting to move in,” she said.
Across the city, Bluestone Apartments, a Lauth Companies development with 208 units that opened in 2009, has no open one-bedroom apartments, said leasing coordinator Megan Cornett.
It’s the same story at Greenfield Village off New Road; between now and April, only two one-bedroom apartments are expected to become available.
Availability ebbs and flows throughout the year at Bluestone; sometimes, the complex has plenty of openings, but other times, Cornett has to give bad news: nothing is available. And one-bedroom units are always in demand.
Fitzwater said the good news is there’s room within city limits for more multi-family development to be built.
And some relief already is on the way. Two new apartment complexes have recently received city approval to build in Greenfield.
Last fall, a developer received approval to build 54 apartments on the site of the former Center Street Shoppes. The living spaces, called Broadway Flats, would be income-based, with residents earning no more than about $32,000 annually.
Earlier this month, the Justus Company announced plans to open a 260-unit apartment complex renting at market price in Greenfield’s Progress Park.