During a recent Edmond City Council meeting that revealed a study showing unattainable home prices in our community, some residents shared concerns that their property values and life accomplishments might be lessened if the council were to pursue efforts to create more affordable and sustainable housing solutions.

The sentiment shared by some during the meeting — that they “worked hard to get here” — is appreciated and understood. However, young professionals in our community simply want the opportunity to do the same.

Unfortunately, the traditional trajectory of housing that a young person would take does not exist in Edmond today. The idea of obtaining a degree or entering a trade and living in an apartment, then a multifamily or small single-family dwelling, and then — after working really, really hard — purchasing a home is currently a pipe dream. An apartment complex has not been built in Edmond for a decade, in part due to citizen-led petitions. Condos and townhomes are perpetually fully occupied, while available single-family homes are largely unaffordable for the city’s young professionals.

According to the Edmond Housing Assessment, the current average new home in Edmond costs $429,000. Data from the assessment also show that the population of Edmond residents over age 65 has increased substantially since 2012, while the population of those age 25 to 34 is expected to decrease over the next five years. On the 12-member Edmond Young Professional Advisory Board, arguably a group of the community’s most active and engaged young people, only one of us owns a home in Edmond city limits.

Hospitals struggle to recruit nurses and medical assistants owing to Edmond’s lack of affordable housing. More and more often, our police officers, firefighters, teachers and other crucial workers must commute to Edmond. All of these unfortunate circumstances are due to one unfortunate issue: the continued lack of affordable housing in Edmond.

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Housing stepping stones needed

Edmond housing
The Edmond Young Professionals group volunteered for The Endeavor Games welcome party at the University of Central Oklahoma on Thursday, June 8, 2023. (Edmond Area Chamber of Commerce)

What do you visualize when you hear the term “affordable housing?” Is it government subsidized, cookie cutter, multi-family units? Or large-scale, low-rent apartments? Believe it or not, the definition is much more simple.

“Affordable housing” literally means housing that a household can afford. Of course, afford means different dollar signs to different people, but the general idea is that a household should spend no more than 30 percent of its income on housing. The average household income in Oklahoma is $56,956 per year. So, let’s say you subscribe to the notion that one should aim for a house that costs about two and a half times their annual salary. A family in Oklahoma is looking for a home that costs $142,390. In the Edmond real estate market, such homes essentially do not exist.

The recent conversations I have been privy to with other young professionals often involve how the public adamantly opposes many potential housing solutions and sometimes labels “renters” as the problem. This is the first issue that must be addressed. Suppose citizens of Edmond continue to look upon those who cannot afford to purchase a $429,000 home as second class. If that is the case, we will continue to plunge our community into a workforce shortage with a lack of economic drivers. Frankly, we will play right into the “sleepy,” and “uppity” descriptions often placed upon Edmond.

Young professionals and other people who desire to call Edmond home are not looking for a handout, or even a hand up. All we are asking is for the supply of housing to be increased in a way that includes options that can be afforded by the majority of people instead of only by the upper-income echelon. The housing stepping stones that are missing must be restored.

Through the housing study, the city of Edmond is working to provide remedies. Potential solutions could include incentivizing builders to offer smaller and lower-cost homes, changing building codes to allow for additional dwellings on properties, or building more multi-family housing. But as we discuss these options, Edmond’s problem is clear: It has become incredibly and increasingly difficult for young professionals to call the city of Edmond home.

Being a natural optimist, I believe we can solve these problems and improve the current housing climate in Edmond. Let us all come together to champion our city for all people. Let’s encourage the city and developers to provide more housing types at desperately needed prices. Let us remove the stigma from the terms “affordable housing” and “renters.” Let us help Edmond continue growing in the best way possible for current residents and for future generations.

Savannah Whitehead serves as the chairperson of Edmond Young Professionals, a group that strives to encourage young people to live, work, and play in Edmond. Savannah graduated from Oklahoma State University with a degree in art history in 2016 and has worked in Edmond since, first at the Edmond Chamber of Commerce and now as the program director at the Edmond Fine Arts Institute and as the director of VIBES Edmond’s First Thursdays.