The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

January 22, 2013

Johnstown homeowner picture has two sides

JOHNSTOWN — Johnstowners tend to live in the same place for long periods of time.

In fact, the local Metropolitan Statistical Area ranks first nationally in terms of the median year in which householders moved into their current living unit. The dividing line for the Johnstown MSA is 1991, according to a one-year American Community Survey estimate for 2011 posted at factfinder2.census.gov.

The median is a result of both positive and negative trends.

“Johnstown people are committed to Johnstown,” said City Manager Kristen Denne. “We do have a very loyal base of homeowners in the city. When they’ve chosen to put their roots down, they’ve stuck with Johnstown. ... The only negative part of that is that we don’t see a large influx of homeowners coming in, which, obviously, as the older population declines, we’re having problems filling that void and we’re seeing a lot more absentee homeowners.”

Nearly 21,000 of the MSA’s 150,000 total residents live in the city of Johnstown.

There were 10,075 households within the city’s borders from 2007-2011, according to quickfacts.census.gov.

The home ownership rate, however, was less than 50 percent. More than 30 percent of citizens lived below the poverty line. By comparison, Pennsylvania had a 70.6 percent home ownership rate with 12.6 percent of the overall population living in poverty during the same time.

The hard-hit local economy and low ownership rates affect city government, along with construction and real estate businesses.

“We don’t have the turnaround that other areas have,” said Valerie Hudson, co-owner of American Dream Real Estate on Scalp Avenue.

Mike Hamacek Construction, a Johnstown-based business, builds about one new house per year. “The market for new construction is tough, but the remodeling market is still really strong around here,” said owner Mike Hamacek.

Johnstown’s home ownership situation is similar to other Rust Belt cities that endured population exoduses of young working-age individuals and their children, following the downfall of industries, such as steel, during the 1970s and 1980s. There are 14 MSAs in which the median home ownership date is 1995 or earlier; 11 of them are from Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and New York. The Steubenville/Weirton area, located in Ohio and West Virginia, is right behind Johnstown with a date of 1992. The list includes Altoona and Pittsburgh, both 1995.

The impact of the region-wide brain drain is still felt in many ways, including how communities struggle to meet the financial needs of aging populations with shrinking tax bases. “When the jobs went out in the ’80s, I think it really resulted in a larger trend than we acknowledged,” said Christopher Briem, a regional economist with the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Social and Urban Research.

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