Assessment shows county's housing needs

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— Routt County needs 400 more homes to meet the demand of out-of-county commuters, according to a draft o.f the Routt County Housing Needs Assessment.

The $25,000 housing study, which was funded by the city, county and a $12,500 grant from the state, will be incorporated into the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan Update and used by agencies for grant writing. Housing Collaborative LLC did the assessment.

About 1,800 households have Routt County housing needs. In addition to the 400 houses needed for commuters, there are 870 households paying 50 percent or more of their household income for housing. Another 528 houses are needed for potential first-time homebuyers.

Ellen Hoj, the director of the Regional Affordable Living Foundation, said she was unaware of how many commuters came into Routt County and the housing demand they created. Based on information taken from other housing studies done in mountain resort towns, the consultants said about 40 percent of the commuters would like to move to Routt County.

The county has about 1,500 commuters, most coming from Moffat County, and 400 more houses would need to go up to meet their demand.

"That number was very surprising. I did not know there were that many commuters," Hoj said.

Much of the assessment provided numbers to back up a trend people have watched grow for years. Those who earn between 50 percent and 120 percent of the area median income have the greatest need for home ownership. Those houses would be priced between $150,000 and $240,000.

The study found 46 percent of the units listed on the county's multiple listing service were priced for more than $400,000 and only 5 percent of units listed were priced less than $100,000.

"All of this really shows the community is not taking care of the work force," Hoj said. "The problem is the cost of housing is exponentially going up faster than wages. For local businesses there is no way you can pay your chef $100,000 a year so he can afford a house."

Between 1990 and 2000, median homeowner costs increased by 67 percent, but the average wage increased just 48 percent and personal income increased at 50 percent.

The number of people whose housing costs are more than 50 percent of the household income was one of the more alarming statistics for Hoj. The study estimated 19 percent of renters and 10 percent of owners faced severe cost burdens for housing, meaning they used more than 50 percent of their income to pay for housing.

"These are the people who are very close to homelessness, one paycheck away from losing everything," Hoj said. "That is alarming to me, to be in the double digits. Those are the people you don't hear from very much."

Housing is a "cost burden" for about 42 percent of the renter households. Cost burden means they are paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Affordability is a problem for an estimated 1,146 renter households.

Owners who are cost burdened by housing payments increased from 23 percent in 1990 to 31 percent in 2000.

On the plus side, about 69 percent of Routt County households own their homes, which is higher than the Colorado average of 67 percent. That number drops to 62 percent when looking at households in Steamboat Springs.

City Planner Tom Leeson, who is heading the area community plan update, said the study showed older and harder to rent properties that were once short-term rentals are now being used for long-term rentals. Those properties are one of the reasons the rental market has softened, increasing vacancies and stabilizing rent rates.

Very few of the homes taken out of the vacation rental market have been put up for sale, limiting entry-level housing opportunities.

Hoj said RALF's next program is targeting the demographic that needs housing most: those who earn 50 percent to 80 percent of the area median income. RALF is starting a Self Help Housing Program where homeowners work together to build a group of seven homes.

"The people between 50 percent of area median income and 80 percent are the most vulnerable and the least likely to get any kind of housing help within Steamboat Springs. And they are in exactly the starter group we are doing with self help," Hoj said.

The seven houses planned for the first Self Help Housing project will still do little to alleviate the demand for 1,000 affordable homes.

"It is not going to be enough to solve the problem," Hoj said.


-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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