Along with financial windfalls and jobs, shale development like some are hoping to see reach Washington County can also bring a housing crunch.
Reports from Pennsylvania, where Marcellus shale development has been ongoing for several years, indicate some communities have seen rents increase dramatically and residents struggle to find affordable housing. There is also anecdotal evidence of similar issues developing in the Buckeye State, prompting state and local agencies to look into the matter.
"This stuff happens below the radar, and you don't even know it until it's on you," said Rick Hindman, assistant executive director for the Buckeye Hills-Hocking Valley Regional Development District.
According to a report funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission on the impact of Marcellus shale development on housing in Appalachian Pennsylvania, the problem is caused by an influx of oil and gas industry workers to an area that doesn't have an adequate number of affordable properties. These workers can often pay more for rent, causing rates to increase by 100 to 150 percent. In some cases, landlords who have participated in the federal Section 8 housing choice voucher program have dropped out in an effort to attract industry workers and increase their profit.
Utica shale development in Washington County hasn't reached the stage it has in areas to the north, and public and business officials contacted this week say they haven't seen an impact on housing stock and rates so far.
But Brenda Hinton, owner and management agent for Silverheels Property Management in Marietta, said her company has filled a number of local vacancies recently.
On the web
- "Impact on Housing in Appalachian Pennsylvania as a Result of Marcellus Shale," funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission - www.institutepa.org
- "Marcellus Natural Gas Development's Effect on Housing in Pennsylvania," funded by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) - www.phfa.org
- "Marcellus Shale Gas Development: What Does It Mean for Pennsylvania Schools?" Penn State Cooperative Extension, in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools - naturalgas.psu.edu
In the last two weeks, Silverheels has had 40 showings of residential spaces and 29 applications. None of those were related to the oil and gas field, but Hinton said they were already down to just two vacancies Friday afternoon out of total of 300 non-subsidized residential properties in Washington County.
"You see how quickly our availability gets knocked out," she said.
Hinton said the company has already been increasing rents faster than usual in response to demand, and the only significant shale impact so far has been from people looking to rent places while in the area to research land titles.
County-wide housing statistics were not immediately available Friday.
Michael Dotts, special projects manager with the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board serving Tuscarawas and Carroll counties, said he's seen pressure on the housing market there over the last six to eight months. The agency administers a Housing and Urban Development program to provide rental assistance and other help for homeless and disabled individuals.
"We started to notice it was taking individuals a long time to find units," he said.
Dotts said he's gotten reports of people being switched to 30-day renewable leases, which is not an uncommon practice, and being told they need to vacate by the end of the month because the landlord has a new tenant who can pay $1,000 more a month.
While there are fair housing laws, "when you're on a 30-day renewable lease, either party can terminate without cause with 30 days' notice," he said.
The agencies that make up the Continuum of Care in his region are looking at ways to develop, build and operate housing especially for individuals in need, Dotts said.
"We don't really see any other way to ensure housing stock availability," he said.
Dotts said the groups also plan to reach out to oil and gas companies to see if there are ways to work together on the issue. He said he's not placing blame on the companies, noting shale development can bring real economic benefits and the housing strain is an "unintended consequence."
Bill Faith, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, said beyond information provided by front-line people like Dotts, there isn't any overall data on shale development's impact on housing in the state. But he noted rural areas in general tend to not have a lot of affordable rental housing to begin with.
COHHIO, an advocacy and service provider network, is looking to commission some market research to get an idea of what's happened so far and what may happen in the future.
Locally, Hinton said rents are going to increase as demand does, but the key to keeping those increases manageable is having more available housing. That's why the company is encouraging people who may have apartments they're using for storage or rental space they haven't kept up to contact them about putting those spaces back on the market.
"The availability is the important factor here," Hinton said. "The double and triple (rents), that's going to cripple a community."
Wendy Myers, owner of the Mitcham Group, a Marietta-based rental company with about 250 apartments in the area, said her business may eventually benefit from an influx of oil and gas workers but not at the expense of long-term tenants.
"We like to develop long-term relationships with our tenants," she said. "We certainly wouldn't displace anybody for someone who's just coming in temporarily."
"It's not our mission to just say, 'All these people want our apartments, so we're going to double, triple,'" Myers said.
Some area residents admitted they are concerned about the possible impact significant shale development could have on rent.
"Sometimes it's pretty hard" finding a place to live, said Roger Slack, 66, who's currently renting a place on Ohio 26 with a family member.
Slack said he's encountered obstacles financial and otherwise while looking for a place to live in the area already.
Lower Salem resident Julie Haught, 52, said an influx of oil and gas workers could drive rents too high for some people.
"They're paying any amount," she said.
But Marietta resident Janice Gutberlet, 71, said she hasn't struggled to find housing in the past and isn't worried about the effects of increased oil and gas activity.
"We've never had any trouble," she said.