Oak Creek short on family homes

When affordability is key, small homes abound, but three- and four-bedrooms are hard to find

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— When Oak Creek Police Chief Tim Willert moved to the Yampa Valley this winter, living in the town he protected was not an option.

Starting in November, Willert looked at the "for rent" and real estate signs on the lawns of Oak Creek homes and contacted real estate agents. He could not find a four-bedroom house for lass than $200,000.

With a family of five, Willert wanted a house that would hold his family and a mortgage he could pay off on a police officer's salary.

"There were a couple houses for sale, but for someone who just moved here, I wasn't able to afford them," Willert said.

David Erickson of Oak Creek's Erickson Real Estate Group LLC admits that the larger family homes are harder to find in Oak Creek.

"I think part of the problem is most of what you see on the market are the one-bedroom, one-bathroom little cabins in Old Town," Erickson said. "That is what is on the market fairly regularly. The larger single-family homes we see have been occupied by families that are going to be there for a while."

Erickson said Oak Creek used to have a greater supply of large single-family homes, but the demand has increased and prices have crossed the $200,000 threshold.

"I think a lot of people would look for homes here if there were more," Erickson said. "If Oak Creek had a larger stock of three-bedroom and two-bathroom homes, it would solve a lot of affordable-housing problems."

For Willert, the solution was to rent a house in Phippsburg, a few miles down the road from Oak Creek.

But the quest to buy a home in Oak Creek isn't over. Like many things in Oak Creek, Willert said, the best way to find a house is by word of mouth. This summer a South Routt schoolteacher is moving and the Willerts are next in line to buy the house. Until then, the family will live in Phippsburg.

"The house is still not quite big enough," Willert said. "It is going to do for the time being. Until the house comes available this summer, we are going to have to rent."

He admits the best scenario for his family and the town would be for him to live in Oak Creek. That way, people would know where he was and he could keep an eye on what was happening.

Willert would also get to take advantage of employee benefits and his children would be close to the town's parks.

The lack of affordable family homes has even larger community implications than just the inability to house its police chief.

"To get children in schools, you have got to get houses that families can live in," Mayor Cargo Rodeman said.

Rodeman said the shortage of three- and four-bedroom houses could be a holdover from the mining days when one- or two-bedroom houses were all that were needed. She hopes that an increase in larger single-family homes is in Oak Creek's future, especially homes that are affordable.

One plan is in the works to develop 50 lots just outside of town, close to the Rossi hay meadow, she said.

Another proposal for a single-family home development has already been brought before the town by developer Dave Epstein.

Epstein brought a proposal before Oak Creek's town board and Planning Commission for a three-phase project adjacent to the Oak Creek town border. The first phase would provide nine units, the second, 15 units, and the third would have 10 to 12 units.

Epstein has been working on the development for the past few years. He said four-bedroom houses are on the market right now, but they are just not affordable.

In his mind, affordable would be less than $175,000.

"The four-bedrooms or above are not in the affordable range," he said. "I feel you need something that can hold a family. Unfortunately, a one-bedroom, one-bathroom house costs close to $75,000. That is affordable for entry-level individuals, but not for families."

Willert couldn't agree more.

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