Rental Housing Shortage in Superior


Shortage and Age of Rental Units a Concern

Much has been made of the age and availability of housing in Superior during the recent election. Both mayoral candidates and numerous city council hopefuls declared their dedication to improving the housing situation in our fair city.

Explore Superior asked city Planning Director Jason Serck about the housing problem in Superior, and what can be done by the city. He stated that “the City Council and Administration continue to put housing needs on the front burner and will continue to look for ways to foster future development in all housing sectors.”

Now that the election has passed and we know who our next mayor will be, the next step will be for these elected officials to tackle this clear and present problem. The age and condition of rental units in Superior is an undeniable concern.

Rentals Units Rising Percentage of Housing Stock

Since 2000, the number of rental units in Superior for single-family homes has grown by 15.7% (from 985 in 2000, to 1140 in 2013). During the same time period, the number of “attached” units, has increased by 106.3% (from 79 to 163.)1 Still there is a shortage of quality rental housing available.

While the percentage of Superior’s population renting rather than owning has increased, during the same period, Superior’s overall population has declined by approximately 700 people, or about 2½%.2

Age of Rental Units a Concern

The problem with Superior’s rental housing stock is its age. About 30% of rental housing units were constructed in the 1970’s, with 57% being built prior to 1970. Only 13% of housing units within the city limits have been built since 1980, with most of the newer developments being of the tax subsidized housing nature.3

The result is a shortage of both market-rate and subsidized rental housing. In fact the vacancy rates for market-rate and subsidized housing in Superior are 2% and 0% respectively. According to the experts, these rates should be more in the range of 5% and 2% respectively.

With so few apartments available, it is no wonder that housing conditions have gradually declined in Superior. When rental units are in such high demand, the incentive for owners to upgrade and properly maintain their properties is diminished.

We recognize the need for additional subsidized housing in Superior, and will address this in coming article in Explore Superior. However, this article is concerned with the shortage of quality market-rate rentals in Superior.

Growth Needed in Market-Rate Housing

A market-rate apartment building has not been built in Superior since 2000! If Superior has any hope of retaining the “millennial” generation in our city, this disparity must be turned around.

Young families need homes

Our candidates and new leaders have talked of bringing Superior back from the abyss, and want to find ways to encourage the “millennial” generation to settle here. In addition, every elected leader seems devoted to the implementation of the Better City Superior initiative.

It’s one thing to live in a marginal apartment while attending college. However, upon graduation and landing good jobs in the Twin Ports, our young people want quality housing choices to select from.

Purchasing a home may not be on the radar of a young person who is paying off high student loans. The problem is that without suitable market-rate rental housing for our up-and-coming younger generation to settle in, they may be forced to relocate to Duluth.

Once they move over the bridge, much of their disposable income will stay in Minnesota.

The Housing Merry-Go-Round

Without our youth to keep our city vibrant and active, decline is inevitable. Additionally, should our older residents desire to down-size from the larger houses where they raised their families, they too must have quality housing options.

If their only options are to purchase a town home, condo, or rent a luxury apartment in Duluth, that is where they will go. Worse yet, they may turn their home into a rental unit that may or may not be maintained.

In a sense, housing is like the recycling business …older residents (who don’t move to warmer climates) need smaller but high quality market-rate housing options. In turn, their former homes will go on the market for sale so that the millennials can trade up from their apartments to a single-family home when they are ready…and the beat goes on.

New Series on Housing Starts Today

Now that the elections are over, Explore Superior will turn its attentions to the housing problems in Superior. You can expect to see a number of articles here addressing new housing construction, as well as how older properties can be fixed, rehabbed, or razed as need be in order to provide our residents good housing options.

Our initial focus will be on market-rate housing concerns, but we will also address subsidized housing issues in future articles. We will also feature an article about the redevelopment of the Lurye Furniture building in our downtown.

See new article on ES – South End Sees New Apartment Building – April 15, 2017

  • 1Housing Study from Maxfield Research, September 2015, page 5
  • 2US Census Bureau
  • 3Housing Study from Maxfield Research, September 2015, page 7

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