2017 Regional Housing Study: Housing Demand in Morgan County

The Lake of the Ozarks Regional Housing Study represents an in-depth study of the housing conditions in Camden, Miller and Morgan counties, as well as Laclede County. In last months blog we looked further into the housing demand for Camden County. This month we'll build on the housing demand and dive into Morgan County characteristics.


Morgan County, while located in the Lake Region, has a distinct character where the natural landscape transitions from relatively subtle at the north to more mountainous near the Lake. Further, unlike many of the communities closer to the Lake, which are service centers for Lake residents, both Stover and Versailles function as more traditional rural population centers. These population centers are home to families and those employed in agricultural industries and local manufacturing with some Lake-oriented service businesses. In these areas, much of the demand for housing is for workforce rental and ownership options and much lesson for second homes.

Whereas Stover and Versailles are positioned away from the Lake commerce, the communities in the southern section of the county are very much connected to the economy of the Lake. These include Proctor, Laurie, and Gravois Mills, in addition to the mix of housing and commercial development located along the edge of the Lake. Much like the areas of Camden County near the Lake, demand here is for a mix of quality and affordable workforce housing and second or retirement homes.


The population characteristics and trends shine a light on current housing demand and provide a base for projecting future population and housing demand. Morgan County experienced significant growth from 1980 until 2000. The growth began to slow from 2000 to 2010 and then declines slightly following the recession. From 2000 through 2014, which to many represents when the region finally emerged from the recession, Stover and Laurie maintained the most stable pattern of growth.


Morgan County has a diverse mix of traditional employment, Lake oriented housing and employment, rural residential, and a relatively large agricultural base. The economy and the housing market began to stagnate beginning in the 2000s through the recession. This trend was reinforced by changes in the manufacturing sector throughout the region, including slow job creation and flat wages.

The region's economy has a significant impact on housing and housing demand ,including demand for workforce housing, second homes, and retirement living. A basic assessment of Morgan County's economic trends indicates:
  • With service centers for the Lake region, the largest segment of the labor force are engaged in retail trade, nearly 20%. 
    • Retail positions tend to offer lower wages at, or just above, the minimum wage. These incomes traditionally demand quality rental housing options. 
  • The second largest employment sector is Educational Services, Health Care, and Social Assistance. These businesses offer job positions which range from executive wages to entry-level and support wages. 
    • Therefore, the demand generated is diverse and often includes quality market rate rentals and smaller entry level owner occupied housing. Many of these employees are looking to live away from the Lake in environments that are family friendly and affordable. 
Since 2005, the number of jobs in Morgan County has remained fairly constant, but more employees are commuting into the county to fill those jobs. This may reflect the growing cost of housing in Morgan County for those workers. Residents living in the county and working in other locations increased slightly. This may reflect resident's desire to stay in the county, but the need to find higher paying jobs outside the county.


The largest city in Morgan County, Versailles is a center of commerce, employment, and community services. Home to the county seat and the county's manufacturing jobs, Versailles is an important community in the northern Lake region due to its role in providing jobs, housing, commercial goods and services, and government services.


Since 1970, Versailles had experienced an annual growth rate of approximately 0.5%, a reflection of a fluctuating growth pattern. More recently from 1990 through 2010, the population has been stable at approximately 2,500 residents. Versaille's economy has been relatively stagnant due to a number of factors, including: the recession, a depressed manufacturing economy/slow job growth, and declining housing conditions.

With a population projection based on a 0.5% annual growth rate, the city will be able to realize continued growth through pro-housing policies, housing development incentives, and the creation of jobs that pay a livable wage. To support a population of 2,569 by 2025, the city will need to produce 56 additional housing units. This equates to a rate of approximately six new units per year.


The second largest city in Morgan County is Stover. It acts as a service center and residence for families and the Morgan County workforce. Highway 52 connects Stover to Cole Camp on the west, and on the east to Versailles, Eldon, and the East Lake Region. Stover is also located on Highway 135, which provides a direct connection to the Lake Region via Laurie. By virtue of this location, Stover is well positioned as an independent bedroom community for those employed in Versailles and in the Lake Region.


Stover experienced its greatest rate of growth in the 1970s through the 1980s before declining by approximately 90 residents and then beginning a recovery through the present year. With a population projection based on a 0.5% annual growth rate, the city will be able to realize continued growth through pro-housing policies, housing development incentives, and the creation of jobs that pay a livable wage. To support a population of 1,122 by 2025, the city will need to produce 31 additional housing units. This equates to a rate of approximately three new units per year.


Laurie has experienced a high rate of growth since 1990, with an annual growth rate ranging between 2.7% and 12.7%. Laurie is well situated to become a service center for the northwestern Lake region and to capture regional growth. Unlike many of the communities in the region, approximately half of Laurie's housing units are rental products which demand relatively high rents.


Overall housing costs in Laurie are some of the least affordable in the region with home values exceeding incomes by 5.8 times. Of the total 246 owner occupied housing units, approximately 70% own their homes without a mortgage. Of these residents, approximately 15% are considered house-burdened indicating that they spend more than 30% of their household income on housing. The remaining 30% of owner occupied units are held with a mortgage. Of these owners, 32% are considered house-burdened. For rental properties, 65% of residents are considered house-burdened.

To address affordability issues, Laurie will need to actively support the creation of workforce housing and other housing products that are affordable to the region's residents. Laurie has fewer seasonal vacancies than many other communities in the region, indicating that housing is utilized to a higher degree.


Morgan County's fertile land to the north provides a more balanced agriculture and tourism based economy. However, manufacturing job losses over the last 20 years have hit Versailles harder than other communities in the region. The city's role in the region will likely continue to evolve as it plays a bigger role as a regional housing and commercial center. This trend may also reflect the county's overall role in the region.

Morgan County's ability to provide more affordable lots in established communities like Versailles and Stover is not only important to those communities, but also the region as a whole. Lake development opportunities continue to exist on the west side of the Lake in Morgan County. As fewer and fewer lots are available for development on the west, outside of Village of Four Seasons, demand will only increase in Morgan County. To capture this demand, better approaches to infrastructure development will need to be identified early, before development pressures increase even further.

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