COLUMBIA — The long and contentious battle over new ward boundaries ended in October when the City Council signed off on the reapportionment proposal known as Trial E. The major boundary changes occurred in the First Ward, which expanded to the west, and in the Fourth Ward, which expanded south.
A Missourian analysis of the new wards, however, shows little change in terms of ward demographics. Here are some of the most interesting findings:
First Ward — Youngest median age of any ward, 22.6 years
Second Ward — Highest Hispanic population, 5.0 percent
Third Ward — Highest percentage of vacant homes, 11.6 percent
Fourth Ward — Highest percentage of owner-occupied properties, 74.6 percent, and oldest median age, 37.9
Fifth Ward — Second-oldest median age, 31.7
Sixth Ward — Second-lowest homeownership rate, 27 percent, and large student population
Evidence of the housing boom — and bust
Much of the available census data concerns housing conditions in the wards. The Third Ward, which was unchanged by reapportionment, has the highest proportion of vacant homes. Nearly one in eight homes, or 11.6 percent, are uninhabited in that ward. The Fourth Ward had the lowest percentage of vacant homes at 4.2 percent.
There are different theories as to the reasons for the high rate in the Third Ward. Tracy Greever-Rice, a policy analyst at the Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis at MU Outreach and Extension, said the rate is likely the result of newer homes built during the housing boom of the past decade that have not been purchased.
"It's the result of overdevelopment as a result of the real estate crash," said Greever-Rice, who also ran for the Fourth Ward city council seat in 2010. "There's a lot of stuff sitting out there that's relatively new."
Doug Wheeler, a Realtor and chairman of the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission, said he isn't sure the housing glut hit the Third Ward any harder than other parts of the city, though.
"Did they overbuild in some areas? Possibly," he said. "I'd argue that's been a trend forever."
Jessica Kempf, president-elect of the Columbia Board of Realtors, said there was lot of new construction in the Third Ward, which encompasses the city's northeast quadrant.
"The market's a little more saturated right now with homes for sale," Kempf said.
A Split Personality
The Sixth Ward, which changed very little with the new boundaries, has a bit of a split personality. On the one hand, it has the second-lowest home ownership rate at just more than 27 percent, reflecting its large student population.
"That's the area most of the new student housing has been going into, the southeast," Kempf said, pointing to the new apartment developments near Grindstone Parkway and Rock Quarry Road.
"I'm sure there's concern with the volume of additional student housing proposed," said Pat Bess, who represents three neighborhood associations in the Sixth Ward.
But while the Sixth Ward has a large student population, it also has the highest ratio of homes owned free and clear compared to homes owned under a mortgage. More than one-third of all owner-occupied homes in the Sixth Ward are paid off.
Kempf believes that may be the result of a high proportion of investment property in the area.
"(Owners) own a single-family home or a duplex, and they've bought it and paid off their mortgage or paid for it with cash to rent it to students," Kempf said.
Greever-Rice said the ownership numbers might also indicate the relative lack of new housing starts in the Sixth Ward. "Over the past decade, there hasn't been a lot of new development in that area of Columbia," she said.
Kempf said the Sixth Ward also features neighborhoods with long-term residents.
"In that area, people tend to stay in their homes longer," Kempf said. "That could be a trend in that area."
Older and established
The Fourth Ward has the highest proportion of home ownership — nearly 75 percent — reflecting an older, more established ward.
With a median age of 37.9 years, Fourth Ward residents also are collectively the oldest. Greever-Rice said that is no surprise.
"As people move through their lives, they gain more affluence and they pay off their mortgages," she said. "It's the most established and the most affluent (ward) in Columbia."
"Those two things kind of correlate," Kempf said. "Older individuals tend to own versus rent."
Young and diverse
The First Ward is Columbia's youngest, with a median age of 22.6 years. That and the fact that only 28 percent of its housing units are occupied by families — the lowest rate in the city — are indicative of the fact that many college students call the First Ward home.
The ward also is city's most diverse, with the lowest proportion of non-Hispanic whites at about 71 percent. Eighteen percent of its population is black and 5.6 percent Asian. A little more than 4 percent of First Ward residents identify themselves as Hispanic.
The shifting of ward boundaries had little effect on ethnicity numbers in the First Ward and elsewhere, however. The First Ward continues to have the highest percentage of black residents, followed closely by the Third Ward at 17.3 percent and the Second Ward at 15.6 percent.
At slightly more than 9 percent, the First Ward has the second-highest proportion of vacant homes. That's not uncommon in lower-income areas, but the rate might be even higher if Columbia weren't a college town.
"There's higher demand for that sort of niche of housing than there would be in a community that didn't have a big bulge of people in their early 20s looking for affordable housing," Greever-Rice said.
A unique balance
That large proportion of younger residents is one-half of a balancing act that's led all wards in Columbia to hew to a remarkably close — and relatively low — median household size. Every ward's median household size lies between 2 and 2.8 residents.
Just as Columbia is a college town, Greever-Rice says its efforts to market itself as a retirement destination have led to an influx of older residents. Those two trends — combined with the city's high levels of education — lead to a relatively small household size, she said.
"Those are the two times in life when people are likely to live in smaller (rather) than larger households," Greever-Rice said. "That's why it's flat."