Martin: Some hard truths about local housing issues
August 31, 2017
It's time to face some brutal truths about housing.
We at Sky-Hi News completed our three-part housing series last week, which dug into many of the factors and effects going into the housing problems facing Grand County.
What we learned wasn't very hopeful, unfortunately. Though, the situation is not entirely hopeless.
There will never be a magic solution to providing enough quality affordable housing — especially more than just apartments — while being able to maintain reasonable wages for workers, without disrupting natural views or avoiding the government becoming your next landlord.
There are people, right now, that are unable to survive in the county. They resort to popping up tents at random campsites and have nowhere else to go, struggling in the pursuit of earning a decent living wage.
That's a fact.
But it's all about money.
Most developers are looking for profit, like any business. With the local housing market thriving on the construction of homes with a price tag in excess of $500,000 and well above, the thinking seems to be why not stick to offering an abundance of those homes instead of settling for the typically small revenue streams coming from a small cluster of low-income or affordable housing? Especially with the steep costs tied to constructing large complexes of affordable housing units, why not simply obtain a parcel of land — make sure there's a view — and start building million-dollar mansions that offer a heftier profit?
Developers shouldn't be chastised for wanting to make money. It is, after all, the driving factor behind mostly everything in this world. And that's what it will take to start seeing rampant housing units erected around the county: oodles of capital.
Set aside the financial factors involved and look singularly at the most basic principle of macroeconomics: supply versus demand. Prices are high because there is simply not enough housing.
Therein lies the rub, as the bard would say.
While my background is surely not in economics, it doesn't take somebody schooled at the finest business schools to realize there is a problem.
But it's nothing new; it's just getting worse.
We applaud the towns of Granby and Winter Park for thinking forward, for working alongside developers to try to mitigate local housing woes through persistence and incentive. But it won't be enough and it won't please everyone.
Take, for example, the proposed RV park and affordable housing units Sun Communities is planning to develop on the west side of Granby.
Some people already don't consider it a good location, being right at a major entrance to the town; that it will be an eyesore; that it's too grandiose. OK. But it's these same people who are often the first to complain about the problems with housing. Now they balk at somebody trying to fix it.
We don't want to wax pessimistic. But we need to remain honest.
There are people, right now, that are unable to survive in the county. They resort to popping up tents at random campsites and have nowhere else to go, struggling in the pursuit of earning a decent living wage. They're the lift workers, the ones that hand you your morning cup of coffee or sell you your next pair of skis.
It's tragic. It also runs contrary to what our communities should stand for. There shouldn't be people hoping to live in this county and then get here only to have their dreams dashed because they have to live out of their tiny coupe or collapsible tent.
That, however, is the stunning realization.
In a county seemingly flowing with actual capital, one would think housing would be a cinch because we can pay them sufficiently.
We don't want people having to live out of their cars or campsites, so we'll plan to raise hourly wages. That's another crapshoot.
Unless the business is so lucrative it can afford to raise wages on a large scale, it's not going to solve anything. It's small businesses then that get the bad brunt of the issue. Suddenly businesses have to lay off workers to pay the higher wages, then they start to close because they simply can't keep up with paying higher wages. Those workers might now be able to afford housing, but now they're out of a job.
Without these businesses and their services, the housing issues become a problem for all of us.
There have been some interesting attempts at solving the issues elsewhere, something we think could actually provide a big boon to our local housing crisis.
One of the biggest attractions bringing people to Grand County, not just tourists but workers and residents, is undoubtedly Winter Park Resort. We are so pleased to have such a great place in our community and we sincerely wish them the best as they move forward with their operations now under new ownership.
But what if Winter Park Resort, for example, were able to contribute a sizable sum of money to a local non-profit that maintains an affordable housing fund? We then start to see 40 to 50 new housing units breaking ground. More workers come to the area and find jobs, more money flows through the local economy, more property is added to the towns' tax rolls. Other businesses and even enterprising local residents then follow suit and contribute to the fund and the cycle continues. Local municipalities stay out of the housing issue and instead set priorities in other sectors such as improving roads, creating new parks and keeping our communities safe and secure.
It's just a thought. But maybe it's just a pipe dream.
Back in the last community where I lived and worked in North Dakota, the aging, cramped community hospital desperately needed to expand and find a new building; but instead of constructing a whole new campus, their solution was to add on new wings to the existing long-term care facility across town.
Their solution to finding affordable housing for their new employees, since they would be adding more, was to purchase homes that were for sale in the community where the doctors and nurses could live, full-time, or at least until they got their bearings and could find something of their own.
Sky-Hi News is fortunate enough to be able to provide affordable housing for the community. Though it's not a lot, it is something. And while obviously not every business can afford to purchase land and construct housing, or may not even want to if it could, it isn't hard to envision it as a small-ish solution to at least start addressing the issue head on. So we encourage our local business leaders to enter into a dialogue. You run successful businesses; surely if you put your heads together, you'll work up some ingenious solutions. It'd be at least worthwhile to talk and explore the options.
Small developments here and there aren't going to do the trick. And not everyone wants to live in a cramped apartment. Some people are seeking starter homes, something for less than $200,000 while not sacrificing quality or location.
Needless to say, the housing issues facing Grand County are extremely complex. Pull at one string and another moves with it. And while there are people out there right now trying to come up with their own solution, it will take more than one person to solve the problem.
These issues will not go away unless, say, the county was to undergo some mass exodus, which would be unimaginably traumatic all around. I'm sure that's something we all want to avoid.
Setting aside the people who wish Grand County would return to its former quiet "splendor," i.e. the long-ago past, we need solutions to the housing crisis to preserve and ultimately build on the progressive spirit of this region. Things need to be solved to position the county for the future, which is where we should be headed — together.
Bryce Martin, editor of Sky-Hi News, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.