WHEELING, W.Va. — By fall, there should be at least 60 new apartment units in Wheeling ready to welcome tenants, with the potential for at least twice that many more on the way over the next couple of years – and not a moment too soon, if you ask Mayor Andy McKenzie.
In September, the Woda Group will bring the loft apartment concept to downtown with 22 units on the upper floors of the Stone Center at Market Plaza, hoping to cater to young professionals who find living in an urban setting appealing. Also this fall, the same company expects to complete construction on Capital Greene, a 40-unit apartment building for seniors on the site of the old Fort Henry Motor Inn on Lincoln Avenue in Elm Grove.
Wheeling has long been known as a place where the population swells during normal business hours, then shrinks when offices close for the day. Meanwhile, the city’s census estimate continues to dwindle, year after year – and city leaders would much prefer to see more of the people who work in Wheeling live in Wheeling.
“There is no issue more important to the city of Wheeling than housing,” McKenzie said. “We need people living in our community.”
An influx of out-of-state workers in the natural gas industry willing to pay top dollar to buy and rent living space and an aging housing stock are among factors in creating a difficult environment for those looking for a place to live.
“Because of the success of oil and gas, it’s driving home prices through the roof,” McKenzie said. “We’re seeing a dynamic shift of low-to-moderate income people who need housing.”
Capital Greene features, in a single, three-story building, a mix of one- and two-bedroom units that will rent for $500 and $600 per month, respectively. Each has a single bathroom and ranges from about 650 to 850 square feet in area.
Likewise, the Stone Center lofts feature a mix of one- and two-bedroom apartments from about 670 to 1,500 square feet in area. Woda’s website lists rents from $975 to $1,400 per month for the lofts, but most units ask those interested to call for details. Some units have one, one and a half or two bathrooms.
The two Woda developments nearing completion are targeted to serve different demographics, but those groups have been affected by the rental market shift just the same. But a third project Woda is pursuing could be the most impactful of all of them.
Woda has already received clearance from the Wheeling Planning Commission to build 40 townhouses on the old LaBelle Nail Plant property in South Wheeling for low-to-moderate income residents, for the initial phase of its proposed LaBelle Greene development.
But it’s still waiting to hear back on the status of its application for tax credits through the West Virginia Housing Development Fund’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit program that would allow it to build 88 additional units for a total of 128 new rental homes on over six acres at the site.
That’s a project with the potential to fundamentally alter the lansdscape of the South Wheeling neighborhood, and one McKenzie believes would have a positive impact on surrounding property values.
“It’s a great reuse of property. It’s an old industrial site,” McKenzie said.
The property was attractive to Woda because it represents a resource that’s become scarce in the Ohio Valley: A large tract of flat, ready-to-develop land.
“We have all utilities, and it’s an area the city administration has targeted for redevelopment,” said Woda Group President Jeffrey Woda, an Ohio Valley native whose company manages more than 9,000 residential units in 13 states, including the Providence Greene Apartments in North Wheeling and the Heathermoor and Stone Brooke apartments in Weirton.
Although McKenzie is happy to see Woda investing millions to fill gaps in Wheeling’s rental housing market, he knows there’s still plenty of work to be done to remedy the city’s housing shortage.
“We’re still missing a major component, which is free-standing housing,” he said.
To read more from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register, subscribe here.