Valley comes in 2nd among areas that offer bang for your buck

By Denise Dick

The index looked at home prices and income throughout the U.S.

YOUNGSTOWN — A national publication is touting the Mahoning Valley’s affordability.

The Sept. 4 edition of BusinessWeek magazine listed the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman area as the second-most-affordable place to live in the country.

“Youngstown, Warren, Boardman and everywhere in between, without a doubt, you can’t find more affordable housing anywhere in the country in my opinion,” said Bill Coates, a Realtor with Burgan Real Estate, Boardman.

He recently took a Connecticut man whose girlfriend has family in the Mahoning Valley on a tour of the area. The man was adamantly opposed to relocating here, Coates said.

“We started out in Canfield and went to Youngstown. I showed him Powers, the Butler, YSU, Mill Creek Park, out to the North Side and the South Side of Youngstown and to Poland and to Boardman,” he said. “He said, ‘This is a good place to raise kids, isn’t it?’”

After the tour, the man wanted to relocate, Coates said.

“He also saw that he could get a 3,000-square-foot house here for less than $300,000,” he said. “He said, ‘It would cost close to $1 million where I am.’”

Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams said he tries to keep articles such as this in perspective and not read too much into them whether they are positive or negative.

“Some of that affordability is driven by a lack of demand,” he said.

It also shows that Mahoning Valley people need to think regionally because lists such as the BusinessWeek article group the region together, Williams said.

If used correctly, it can be a marketing tool for the city and the region. “We have a lot of the features and the amenities that a lot of the larger area have” with a lower cost of living, the mayor said.

He listed the Youngstown Symphony, museums, Mill Creek Park and Youngstown State University as some of those large-city-like amenities.

Youngstown also was featured in a cover story in New American City, a planning and architecture magazine, touting the city’s 2010 plan.

Terry Abrams, executive director of the Homebuilders-Remodelers Association of the Mahoning Valley, said the cost of land in the Mahoning Valley is lower than in most other metro markets — which enables housing costs to be lower.

“We were never a part of the boom — we never will be,” he said. “But you really get more for your money here.”

A $300,000 house in the Mahoning Valley would cost about $450,000 in Cleveland or Pittsburgh, $600,000 in Denver, Colo., $800,000 in Washington, D.C. and about $1 million in San Francisco, Abrams said.

“This is a good time to buy because the interest rates are low,” he said.

Michael Keys, Warren’s community development director, said the article is a great help in trying to attract to people to the area.

A meeting among Keys, city council members and area banks is planned in coming weeks to discuss how to use the availability of affordable housing in Warren as a marketing tool.

Warren Mayor Michael J. O’Brien said the information is a double-edged sword.

“Housing is affordable in our area and you get more bang for your buck here,” he said. “But we have a challenging employment market, which is part of the reasons it’s affordable.”

Warren tries to emphasize quality of life amenities such as the Warren Community Amphitheater, Packard Music Hall and Packard Museum to make it attractive.

“You can live here and work in Cleveland or work in Pittsburgh and you only have an hour commute,” he said.

Robyn Gallitto, Boardman trustees chairwoman, agreed. Many people who live here commute to work in those cities because the housing stock here is much less expensive, she said.

George Reed, a Realtor with Principi Realty, Warren, said the Realtors Association of Trumbull County, of which Reed is a member, is working to include on its Web site information about Trumbull County’s affordable housing.

They’re targeting places with similar demographics and similar climate, Reed said.

“You can get three and four times the value of house as opposed to other areas,” he said.

Reed, who’s been with Principi for 11 years, said the company is getting inquiries from out-of-state investors including New York, California and Florida, who want to buy houses in Ohio, rehabilitate and resell them.

The BusinessWeek article refers to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index for the second quarter of 2008.

The magazine’s Web site used the index, according to the article, to make the rankings based on incomes and home prices.

Indianapolis-Carmel, Ind. earned the No. 1 most affordable spot.

The New York-White Plains, N.Y.-Wayne, N.J. metro area was the least affordable, according to the magazine.

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