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Photos by Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
The 55-and-older complex is an affordable solution for Gary Manning, who appreciates not worrying about upkeep.

Apartment supply cuts rent growth

Monthly payments forecast to rise but still below national average

Preston Dean Villas opened in Waynedale in October.
The addition of new apartments like Preston Dean Villas helps temper rent growth in the area. But rents are rising.
Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
There’s plenty of room in a Preston Dean Villas closet – and plenty of room in the region for more affordable or income-based housing.

Gary Manning needed a place to stay.

The 59-year-old was tired of his daily drive from Wells County into Fort Wayne after a quarter-century of commuting. Manning wanted to move to the Summit City, but he also wanted something “reasonably priced.”

The Fort Wayne Mold & Engineering supervisor says a rental solution was right under his nose – actually, outside his pickup truck’s window.

“I passed the (Preston Dean Villas) site every day,” he said about the 55-and-older community that opened in October. “I watched it being built.”

So, Manning moved into Preston Dean’s $699-a-month two-bedroom duplex, becoming its first tenant. Manning says he has what many apartment dwellers seek – a nice, affordable place he can call home.

But renters like Manning should brace for higher housing costs. Rent will increase an average of 4.6 percent this year, according to an estimate by the National Association of Realtors.

The Apartment Association of Fort Wayne-NE Indiana reports that one- and two-bedrooms – which make up most of the market – averaged $566 in 2012. That was up 6 percent from 2011, compared with 4.1 percent rise for the nation.

Also notable is the growing gap between one- and two-bedroom apartment rents in the Fort Wayne area. The cost of a two-bedroom has increased 17.5 percent since 2009.

Even with rent on the rise, officials aren’t expecting what they would call dramatic increases.

“We are catching up to the nation, but historically our rents are lower,” said Beth Wyatt, executive director of the Apartment Association. “Fort Wayne doesn’t see the big spikes that larger metro areas see. Our supply (still) helps keep rent down.”

Northeast Indiana has more than 300 apartment complexes. During the past five years, the average rent dipped as low as $522 in 2009, 8.4 percent less than in 2012. Even so, Fort Wayne renters are still behind the national rent average of $843.

New apartments are helping keep higher monthly payments at bay, Wyatt said.

For example, the Allen County Building Department reports 52 construction permits for apartments between 2009 to 2012. The biggest spike during that span came last year when builders requested 29 permits.

Most of those, however, were affordable or income-based housing.

“We do have demand, but we are also getting new supply,” Wyatt said.

Oak Crossing is one such development. The $16 million project will feature 222 units in 12 three-story buildings. Officials expect construction at the northwest corner of East Dupont and Tonkel roads to wrap up by fall.

The first tenants will arrive at month’s end. They’ll pay between $725 and about $1,400 a month for one-, two- or three-bedroom apartments with attached one-car garages. The units have washer-dryer combinations, walk-in closets, garden tubs and granite countertops.

Officials describe Oak Crossing as an upscale rental community with a clubhouse, 24-hour fitness and business centers and a cyber café with free Wi-Fi.

Although Oak Crossing and apartments like it may raise the bar – and rent – they’re aimed at a more affluent clientele, Wyatt said. Most rental complexes in Fort Wayne are more modest, she said.

If that is the case, Willie Barnes wants someone to point her in that direction.

The 53-year-old retired nurse lives in a three-bedroom with her ailing aunt, daughter and her dog – a pug named Tsunami. Barnes pays about $900 a month at Autumn Creek Apartment Homes in Fort Wayne.

“I’d like to move some place cheaper, but I have to have the room,” she said, adding that her garage adds to the cost of her rent. “I’ve been here four years. I had a smaller place, but I don’t like being boxed up.”

Mike Seelig has lived at the Willows of Coventry on the city’s southwest side for more than a year.

“It’s pretty expensive,” the 53-year-old structural steel designer said. “I get it, though. It’s the area. You have (Lutheran Health), college students and things like that which drives demand. Hopefully, I can move into a house soon.”

Not Manning.

“I wanted a place where I didn’t have to worry about upkeep,” he said. “When it snowed, I didn’t have to get out there and shovel. I’m watching someone else do it. I also don’t have to worry about property taxes. I wanted someplace where I could just move in.”

Preston Dean Villas is a Keller Development creation. The complex is in the Waynedale area at Bluffton Road and Reservation Drive. The duplexes, trimmed in brick and vinyl siding, include washers, dryers and one-car attached garages.

Dawn Gallaway, business development specialist for the Fort Wayne company, said Keller is exploring similar investments.

“We primarily deal with income-based housing, but there is a need for another type,” Gallaway said. “There is another category of people out there who make too much for income-based housing but don’t want to pay $800 a month. We are focusing on this segment.”