Vail Daily column: In search of a home
June 4, 2014
There’s a problem that has been creeping up on Eagle County for about 20 years now. When I first knew that I was to move to the valley, I remember I looked at the available rentals online and in the Daily. At the time, I recall there were only eight available apartments/homes for rent that were listed, and only one that was under $1,200 a month. With little to no choice regarding conditions, I chose the rental that was closest to my office and ended up staying in that unit for nearly two years. I had to rent an apartment completely blind, as demand for apartments was so high that individual landlords were generally unwilling to “hold” a spot for me until I arrived, or even cater to basic requests to see pictures. I’d like to remind readers that I was moving to the valley to work in a professional role. I was fortunate to find an apartment that was reasonably clean and safe with neighbors that were kind and respectful.
During my time in Eagle County, I’ve noticed that it has been difficult to prevent high levels of turnover in the vast majority of the businesses I serve. I hear stories about bartenders and teachers “camping out” for the summer to save on rent, and buying a gym membership to just have access to a shower. Groups of five to eight will live in the same apartment, or rotate their vehicles through public parking and then get rides back to a buddy’s place to sleep the night. Often, both parents in a household are working more than 40 hours a week, with one job just covering the amount it costs to put a child in day care while simultaneously renting a basic apartment. While we do have Section 8 and reduced rent housing, we certainly don’t have enough.
And, by the way, this same problem not only applies to renters, but to prospective home buyers as well. Home affordability generally means that 30 percent or less of your income is dedicated to your housing. For the vast majority of folks in Eagle County, we blow right through that 30 percent income mark. In fact, the average income of a single individual in Eagle County is still somewhere between $35,000-45,000 gross. This suggests that a single person with the majority of their income in a 15 percent tax bracket would be allotting somewhere between 35-40 percent of their income to housing. About 40 percent of renters were paying more than 30 percent of their income toward housing in Colorado last year.
But wait, there’s more: How many single-family homes (or townhomes for that matter) under $200,000 were sold in the past five years in Eagle County? Oh yeah … your income would need to be even higher to afford a reasonable single-family home. The median priced home for Eagle County: somewhere in the $400,000s. There are a high number of homes that skew that data in an upward direction, but ask your local real estate agent about affordability — chances are they’ll be renting, too. We have deed restrictions and employee housing to help, but we have a lot of people coming in, and even more that would like to stay.
So what are the choices that the average person must confront in choosing housing? Well, we typically start by going back to our college days and getting roommates. If we could possibly find a halfway reliable woman in this town (or man), maybe we shack up (a bad idea, from personal experience). We could go camping for the summer — I hear there are decent showers at the rec center. Or, like many professionals and workers that are completely necessary to our survival as a community, we move away.
Now, we certainly can’t flood the market. A few years ago, job losses and shifting economics put us in a bit of a housing surplus. My instincts in looking at the market now suggest that we could probably do with some additional inventory on the market. I’m not the guy who makes that decision, and I don’t have the political power to partner with our developers — but I think I know who can underwrite it.
Ben Gochberg is a commercial lender and business finance consultant. He plays, lives, works and is trying to do a little good in Eagle County. He can be reached for business inquiries or free consultation at 970-471-3546.