Eagle county contemplates affordable housing problem
EAGLE — Between handing out its business awards and reviewing the recent activities of the town of Eagle and the Eagle Chamber, attendees at this week’s semi-annual Eagle Vision 20/20 event contemplated one of this valley’s biggest challenges — affordable housing.
“It’s a complex and weighty issue. It’s not an issue that lends itself to ‘solutions,’” noted presenter Clark Anderson of Community Builders, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Glenwood Springs that focuses on urban planning and economic development issues.
Anderson posed the question: “Why does this matter?”
In response, the room filled with business owners and operations replied that affordable housing is a key concern for employee recruitment and retention. But the crowd delved deeper and noted that affordable housing is a fundamental need for a viable local economy.
“Truly great communities are also livable,” Anderson said. “The most fundamental element of a sense of place is if people can live there.”
It’s not news that Eagle County has an affordable housing problem. Actually, that’s incorrect. Statistics showing that Eagle County is the nation’s least affordable place to live have been the subject of national news stories.
Anderson said the county’s housing issues grew from strong economic forces including second home ownership, tourism and the growing retiree population. All of those factors have meant more jobs are available. However, there’s not enough housing for those workers because the local market has a lack of supply, lack of diversity, high property values and high production costs.
Anderson noted that Eagle County’s own needs assessment demonstrated the affordability gap between available housing and residents’ ability to afford it. For instance, he noted the median annual income for a local three-person household is slightly under $80,000. For this family, the affordable purchase price for a home is $340,000. However, the median home price in Eagle County is $575,000. That leaves an affordability gap of $235,000.
Even if this median family makes above-the-median money, the affordability gap persists. Anderson noted increasing the family income to 140 percent of the median still leaves a gap of nearly $98,000.
The county faces a double whammy when it comes to affordable housing. There aren’t enough units now, and by 2025, the county study figures an additional 12,000 units will be needed.
Anderson said while there isn’t a single, silver bullet solution, communities can adopt policies and regulations to chip away at the problem.
“I think we have to begin by rethinking how we plan,” he said. “Affordable housing doesn’t pencil out very often.”
To make affordable housing work, Anderson advocated for the creation of smaller units located within walking distance of community services. He also noted communities will likely have to rethink their various development requirements and fees. Parking, in particular, can be a killer for infill residential development — homes built in existing neighborhoods.
‘A regional issue’
“We need to decide if we want to focus more of our housing for our care or housing for our people,” Anderson said.
Communities won’t be able to solve their affordable housing needs alone, Anderson said. “This is a regional issue and at the end of the day, it will take political will,” he said.
But if this valley wants to position itself for the future, leaders need to band together and get to work on the affordable housing crunch.
“If we won’t we may protect the cuteness of our towns now, but they will be empty some day,” Anderson said.