HOUSING/DEVELOPMENT: Pendulum starting to swing, housing leaders say

County showing progress, north to south
2010-02-19T00:00:00Z HOUSING/DEVELOPMENT: Pendulum starting to swing, housing leaders say By Susan Brown - susan.brown@nwi.com, (219) 662-5325 nwitimes.com
February 19, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Melody Sanchez, president of the board of the Greater Northwest Indiana Association of Realtors, is high on housing and development prospects in Lake County.

"We look forward to a growth year in 2010," Sanchez said.

"Whiting has remained a strong community with its downtown shopping area, new lakefront development and proximity to Chicago's East Side," Sanchez said. "East Chicago is excited in seeing the revitalization getting under way."

Sanchez credited Hammond's College Bound and Home Bound initiatives for encouraging home ownership in the city. The new commercial development along Indianapolis Boulevard is progressing, along with a new Robertsdale development announced in December, she said.

Highland is moving toward completion of its Seberger Farms subdivision as are plans for redevelopment of the north end of town.

Griffith continues to be a good resale community with a new development in progress at the town's far south end, Sanchez said.

At the other end of the county, development of new subdivisions continues with "cautious optimism" despite the economic downturn, with builders feeling confident enough to start some speculative homes, Sanchez said .

Among the top South Lake County communities continuing to see progress is Cedar Lake, where Century 21 broker associate Kim Odegard said she is seeing some significant increase in production, sales and closings despite the market conditions.

Odegard cites the Centennial project by Olthof Homes as just one example.

Started a few years ago, Centennial is a work in progress with 660 home sites in a diverse setting of townhomes, paired cottages and single-family homes.

With its scenic setting and affordable prices, the project has generated a lot of traffic and sales, Odegard said.

"They have tremendous value," she said. "Not only are the homes affordable, with townhouse starting at some $140,000 and single-family homes at $160,000, but they offer upgrades to suit most budgets and styles.

"In my opinion, Cedar Lake is going to be the next up-and-coming area for homeowners," Odegard said.

Similar resort-style amenities also are available at Olthof's Hamilton Square project in Crown Point, she said. Both projects will in the near future offer walking trails and a clubhouse with a fitness center and swimming pool.

Odegard said both projects may not see completion for a couple of years but will offer great prices ensuring the opportunity for homeowners to grow equity.

Randy Palmateer, business manager for the Northwest Indiana Building Trades Council, agrees things are looking up.

"Generally speaking, we're seeing movement finally in the residential section," Palmateer said.

Palmateer said the tax incentives initiated last year to aid home buying are showing some result, though home builders are mostly still shying away from building speculative homes.

Like others in the industry, Palmateer contends many home builders are waiting for existing inventory of the homes to be sold before starting to build again.

Union contractors are faring better overall than nonunion contractors who focused on the residential sector and "put all their eggs in one basket," he said.

"We have commercial and light industrial along with the houses," Palmateer said.

The building trades are seeing activity among all three urban housing authorities with revitalization projects that include multi-unit housing, he said.

"We're seeing movement there," he said. "We're seeing 2010 looking better than 2009, and 2011 should be even better."

Outside of the urban scene, the Lake County Community Economic Development Department is showing an influx of federal funds that will aid the county's 16 small cities and towns and unincorporated areas. The county will benefit from about $6 million in federal stimulus funds to be used for housing-related programs to stabilize neighborhoods and foreclosed properties, Executive Director Milan Grozdanich said.

All of which reflects the eternal optimism of the chairman of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, Leigh Morris.

"From the RDA's standpoint, investments in lakeshore development will encourage investment by the private sector," he said. "Opening up the lakeshore and cleaning up blighted areas clears the way for development in the adjacent areas."

"All we have to do is look toward Chicago," he said. "They cleaned up their blighted areas, and now new development is occurring all around there."

Morris said Whiting, Gary, East Chicago, Gary and Hammond all have the potential for stimulating private sector investment.

Morris cited the potential of the Gary/Chicago International Airport, high-speed rail and expansion of commuter transportation to south county as boons for all of Northwest Indiana.

"It's really the transit-oriented development that occurs when new locations are established that makes the biggest difference in the economy," Morris said, again citing the booming suburbs north and west of Chicago.

"The biggest elephant in the room is the negative feelings about the region," he said. "We have so much going for us in Northwest Indiana. The positives so far outweigh the negatives."

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