‘For the foreseeable future’: Residential construction on the rise in Johnson City

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – For over a decade, the population of Johnson City has continued to grow.

“Between the period of 2010 and 2020 with the most recent census count, our growth rate – we grew at about 12.5 percent,” Johnson City Director of Development Services Preston Mitchell said. “So strong growth in that last ten-year period. Right now, our population is just over 71,000.”

Mitchell says a strong contingent of folks from the Northeast have made their way to the Volunteer State in recent years, but the trend isn’t exclusive.

“Some of our staff members indicate that just on a daily basis as they meet people and talk to people, they see all kinds of license plates from all over the country,” he said.

That increase in population has led to a more recent surge in residential construction across the Tri-Cities, but particularly in Johnson City. The city tracked the number, type and valuation of permits and building projects that began between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30 over the past three years – and the data is telling.

“Between 2019 and 2020, there was a 75% increase in single-family starts, and then between 2019 and 2021 – a 110% increase in single-family starts,” Mitchell said.

Chart from Johnson City’s Building Permit Report (Presented Nov. 4, 2021)

Mitchell added that multi-family projects, such as apartments and townhomes, also saw significant growth during that same period.

“We believe that the trend will continue to be upward, that the plateau has yet to be seen,” he said.

That upward trend is due to the increased interest in the area from both local builders and national developers. Mitchell believes it’s an influx that will greatly benefit the community.

“We have folks who need quality housing, and not only do we need high-quality housing, but we need affordable housing and so we need a range of housing,” he said.

One of those out-of-town companies interested in the area is Longbranch Development. The group from Spartanburg, South Carolina has done their research and seen the growing local market.

“It certainly seems like Johnson City is a place where demand is out-striping supply – fairly dramatically,” partner Ben Graves said. “Looking at the single-family market and talking to the realtors association – our understanding is there’s only a week and a half supply of inventory and that there’s been about a 45% increase in prices in the last two years.”

Graves was the lead developer for The Haven at Knob Creek apartments more than a decade ago. Some of Tennessee’s long-touted attributes brought him back to develop in the area.

“Pro-growth, pro-business, no income tax – we think all of those things lead to positive migration, and just the quality of life, as well,” he said.

Another major factor has been the effort Johnson City has placed on attracting new businesses and residents alike to the area.

“Bringing in new, upwardly-mobile employers and the jobs that are being created and associated with that -we think it’s a really good match with what we’re going to build as a top-end rental product as townhomes,” Graves said.

Graves and Longbranch Development have proposed the construction of 178 townhomes off Knob Creek Road in the coming years, as he, just like Mitchell, believes area development will continue its upward trend.

“We’re going to make a substantial investment in building 178 homes, and that’s not a matter of building ten and waiting to see what happens next – we’re going to deliver the entire community,” Graves said. “So, we’re bullish.”

“To still be developing and growing by the local builders who have been building here for generations – that is so important,” Mitchell said. “Then, to also see some of these out-of-town folks coming in and showing interest in our community and wanting to invest – that just makes it stronger.”

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