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Weekend edition October 28, 2023 | Katelyn Keenehan

How Knoxville’s housing crisis impacts young professionals

The city/county predicts that by 2045 it will add 79,000 people to its population, totaling 557,000 residents.

Young professionals gather for Future of Housing report.

A room filled with 80 of Knoxville’s future leaders was bustling with talks of business, expansion, workforce, and the future of the local economy. The only problem, felt specifically by young people, is the lack of places to live.

Hancen Sale with East Tennessee Realtors and Amy Nolan with the Knoxville Chamber organized a Future of Housing event for Knoxville’s young professionals to help them understand the city and county initiatives to grow. The event was sponsored by Regions Bank.

Housing Crisis in Knoxville/ Knox County

Knoxville and Knox County are growing rapidly. According to Sale, housing occupancy in the area is almost at 98 percent capacity. It’s been nearing maximum capacity for most of 2023. Home prices are up 65 percent over the last three years. Knoxville proper is about 22,000 housing units short. Sale said the lack of availability is driving housing costs up.

“What is the cost of high-cost housing?” Sale said. “Young people are going to choose to live, work and move elsewhere.”

He continued to share how home prices are not only unattainable for some young professionals but also for some essential workers in the community. Sale said fewer than 2 percent of homes on the market are attainable for firefighters and police officers to buy or rent on their starting salaries.

Sale said it’s a multi-faceted issue. One notable reason for the lack of housing is the increased amount of people who are choosing to live alone. He said as many as 40 percent of people in Knox County live by themselves. That group is made up primarily of young professionals and seniors.

Policy Discussions for Knox County

Amy Nolan with the Knoxville Chamber.

Sale and Nolan spent the latter half of the event discussing city and county policy – as it relates to the housing crisis.

Nolan noted that Knox County is working on Advance Knox, which is an effort to define a vision and create a plan that will guide growth, land use, transportation, economic prosperity, and quality of life in the County for years to come.

This is the first time the plan has been updated in 23 years, and just in time. The county predicts that by 2045 it will add 79,000 people to its population, totaling 557,000 residents.

“Of course, when you start talking density, it can get a little dicey,” Sale said. “Even though these changes are needed, people who live in more rural zones can become unhappy with the changes.”

Therefore, it’s a delicate topic of discussion for the county.

Hancen Sale with East Tennessee Realtors

Policy Discussions for Knoxville

Within Knoxville city limits, the biggest issue that Sale identified is the ‘missing middle housing.’ It’s a topic he has pioneered conversations about in the community for the past year.

As previously mentioned, about 40 percent of people in Knoxville are living alone. Right now, some of those people are forced to live in single-family homes due to the lack of other options available to buy. Sale said missing middle housing like duplexes, triplexes, condos, and other smaller options would act as smarter investments for young professionals and seniors. It would also free up larger real estate for families.

Sale also shared about how the city is proposing zoning amendments in older, denser neighborhoods to allow for more of these types of housing units.

The East Tennessee Realtors conduct several research projects throughout the year. You can find a comprehensive list of their data and discoveries about the region’s housing market here.

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