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Grand County: Survey shows need for greater access to affordable housing

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News
ALL | Sky-Hi Daily News

It’s becoming more difficult to attract veteran teachers or administrators, according to East Grand School District Superintendent Rob Rankin.

And custodians, bus drivers or school cooks would find it impossible to make ends meet ” with the cost of rent or house payments ” on one’s salary alone.

Experienced teachers who are the leading bread winners in the family frequently turn down Grand County for its lack of affordable housing, Rankin said.

“They want to be able to afford a house (here),” he said, “and then they look at the cost of real estate and realize it’s just not going to happen.”

It’s not a new problem.

The increase in home prices and a 63 percent inventory of second homes in the county could be detected as early as 10 years ago when the school district’s top candidate for a high school principal from the Fort Collins area turned the job down for the county’s lack of both medical facilities and affordable home prices.

Six years ago, the school district tried to attract an elementary school principal, their top candidate from the Seattle area. The lack of jobs available in his wife’s field and the realization that the couple wouldn’t be able to afford a home in the area made him look elsewhere.

Teacher’s salaries rely on state funding, and the state doesn’t make sufficient adjustments for the cost of living in a county with median single-family home prices exceeding $300,000.

“It’s becoming more difficult for mountain resort communities to attract and retain quality teachers without some consideration on affordable housing,” Rankin said.

Case in point, Aspen, where even the superintendent lives in school district employee housing.

It’s a road down which Grand County may be headed. The results of the study are in, and for some within range of the median area income hoping to buy or even rent a home, it may appear grim.

Grand County ranks 15th out of 64 Colorado counties in population growth over the past five years, but population growth has not matched housing growth.

The economic engine is driven by the second home market; meanwhile, the area has dropped behind in the supply of housing stock for those living and working in the area.

The area median income of $65,900 is based on a family of four in the household. It takes an income 300 percent of the median income to be able to afford the average single-family home in Grand County.

In 97 pages, the study concludes that the area needs 290 units of affordable housing for its current workforce.

An aging housing inventory, which makes up most of the affordable units, is not deemed adequate for current demands.

With 667 new jobs that will be created in the next five years, the study predicts, and with a growing number of retirees, 721 new attainable units will be needed by 2012.

That amounts to 1,011 additional affordable rental/owner units needed to adequately house the area’s workforce and its retirees.

The study further states that the majority of employers in the area believe that the availability of affordable housing for the workforce in Grand County is a problem, and more than half feel it is the most critical or one of the more serious problems in the county.

Those surveyed reported that, collectively, 1,000 employees have left or did not accept jobs mostly due to housing.

Employers agree that there is an employee shortage, mostly due to the lack of affordable housing.

About 1,425 households in Grand County occupy housing that is not affordable ” meaning that the monthly payment toward housing exceeds 30 percent of income.

The study also states that the number of local renters in housing costing more than they can afford jumped from 13 percent in 2001 to 30 percent today.

“The free market is providing fewer homes priced to be affordable for the workforce than ever before,” the study says.

Prices have been rising, with a 58 percent price jump in single family homes over the past five years, and a 37 percent gain in condominiums and townhomes. The largest increase in home pricing is evident in the Fraser Valley.

“The single largest impediment to homeownership in the county is the lack of homes at process that employees who earn local wages can afford,” the study reads.

Even in Kremmling, deemed the most affordable place to live in Grand County, is in need of either newer housing or repairs and remodels to the housing it has.

“Limited housing availability in terms of choice and price could hinder job growth and economic development efforts, especially with two pellet plants scheduled to open,” the study says.

Jim Sheehan, director of the Grand County Housing Authority, says the study’s charts, tables, survey answers, graphs, and statistics will aid in working with towns, the county, developers, real estate agents and employers to bring housing into the forefront.

Rental housing, ownership housing and special needs housing such as senior housing are all needed to close the gap for those who live and work here.

“It’s a huge task,” Sheehan said. “And it takes involvement from everyone to respond to the affordable housing problem.”

One solution tossed around prior to the study was that of a multi-jurisdictional housing authority, similar to the one formed last year in Summit County, which applies sales tax and impact fees in the name of housing.

But survey results from the study show that residents are not really in favor of the idea.

“I think there is kind of a mismatch between the perception of the needs for affordable housing and what is actually needed,” Sheehan said. “Many who feel there isn’t a need already have their home and are not willing to spend money to address the issue. If they are employers having a problem getting workers, however, it hits home.

Or if they are workers who need housing, they recognize the need.”

The study is being printed and will be distributed to town officials on Friday. At 9 a.m. Feb. 11, the report will be presented formally at the mayor-manager meeting in the Hot Sulphur Springs Town Hall.

” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail tbina@grandcountynews.com.


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