By the Numbers: Value of comparability
June 18, 2013
The planning departments of the city of Steamboat Springs and Routt County are conducting a series of joint meetings to discuss the various options available as the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan is updated. Although there are many aspects of the plan being discussed, one thing we know is that we are about to wade into a host of housing issues.
Communities across Colorado spend time talking about housing, and we are no different. The focus of the housing discussion varies. From the SSACP meeting I attended, it seems that we will focus once again on housing affordability intertwined within an economic development framework.
Luckily, there is no lack of quality housing data. We can clearly define where we have been and where we currently are, but that's not enough. I have a good friend who calls this type of self review "navel gazing." To prevent "navel gazing," comparability to other "like" communities is critical. Simply put, comparability helps prevent us from fooling ourselves into thinking we are doing a great job. The quality of the discussions about housing can be greatly improved with data from comparable communities.
Steamboat Springs is a beautiful mountain town. To be sure, there are other beautiful mountain towns in Colorado. However, comparisons can be made to other places that share similar social and economic characteristics. Therefore, who are we most like? It's not an easy question to answer. I have made a list of five places: Edwards, Gunnison, Crested Butte, Telluride and Durango. We need to keep in mind that no two places are exactly alike, so while this is not a perfect list, it is a start.
For comparability, I have selected seven data indicators as they relate to the topic of housing. They include:
■ Percent of occupied housing units
■ Percent of population living in either owner- or renter-occupied housing
■ Percent of the labor force between the ages of 25 to 55 living in owner- or renter-occupied housing
■ The average commute time to work, in minutes
■ The percentage of either owner- or renter-occupied housing paying 30 percent or more of annual household income for housing
■ The median annual household income for owner- or renter-occupied housing
■ The percentage of vacant housing classified as seasonal and occasional use
Let's see how to put some of these data indicators to work. In the context of the SSACP, one of the desired outcomes for economic development is that the area's workforce should have the opportunity to live in the same community where they work. One indicator of this is commute time. Steamboat Springs workers have an average commute time of 14.1 minutes, which is about in the middle. Gunnison has the shortest at 11.5 minutes, and Durango has the longest at 17.5 minutes.
Steamboat Springs is the leader in the percentage of workforce living in owner-occupied housing, at 68 percent. Gunnison has the lowest percentage at 54 percent. The higher percentage lends itself to workforce stability. On an aggregate basis across the indicators shown below, Steamboat Springs is about in the middle of comparable places.
I would encourage all of us not to gloss over the value of comparability in the housing discussion taking place because it can help focus the housing discussion in meaningful ways.
Scott Ford is an economist and a longtime Steamboat Springs resident. He can be reached at email@example.com.