Eagle County knows finding affordable housing solutions never gets easier
September 19, 2018
EAGLE — There are three statistics that clearly illustrate the housing challenges in Eagle County.
The average home sales price in Eagle County in 2017 was $1,082,400. Last year's average local median income was $86,000. A resident earning an average wage can afford around a $300,000 home. That means there's a $700,000 gap between the average sale price and what an average person can pay.
Add to that issue a shortage of affordable rental properties and the challenge of saving money for a down payment when housing costs zap family budgets, and a proverbial perfect-storm environment emerges.
And that, in a nutshell, is why the Eagle County Housing Department exists.
The department's stated mission is to provide innovative, affordable housing solutions to the working people, elderly and disadvantaged members of the Eagle County community. This week, department members provided the Eagle County commissioners with an annual update about their progress toward that goal.
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"When you talk to people who have lived here since the '70s or '80s, they talk about how it's always been hard to live here — it's hard to rent, and it's hard to buy," Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney said. "But there really is a difference between how wages have increased in the past 30 years and how housing prices have increased."
"There was a time when the average wage and the average sales prices were relatively close," said Tori Franks, real estate and housing director for the county housing department. But that time was decades ago, and the gap has done nothing but grow since the 1980s.
The county's work to address the local affordability gap takes several forms, including the deed-restricted units it oversees at Miller Ranch.
Miller Ranch, located in Edwards, remains a popular entry-level housing project. Franks said once a buyer purchases a Miller Ranch unit, on average he or she will reside there for seven years. Units in the neighborhood carry resident-only restrictions and a maximum 6 percent sales appreciation. Franks noted that 6 percent figure is actually much higher than other affordable-housing projects in the valley.
In 2018, to date, there have been 23 sales in the neighborhood, with 10 sellers moving to open-market properties within Eagle County, nine moving out of state, three moving to other properties within Miller Ranch and one moving outside of Eagle County but remaining in Colorado. The average seller appreciation for Miller Ranch units is more than $80,000.
While the 6 percent appreciation limit keeps the Miller Ranch units more affordable than their open-market counterparts, which are not subject to a limit, with the progress of time, appreciation is pushing up prices in the neighborhood. Changing the appreciation rules would be a difficult undertaking, Franks said, and likely it could only be done on a property-by-property basis. However, she said the lessons learned at Miller Ranch will help the county as it looks at other for-sale workforce housing projects.
Down Payment assistance
To date this year, the county housing department has provided 41 down payment-assistance loans. That's a new record.
This year, the county program has loaned $567,309. The average loan amount is nearly $14,000, and 25 of the 41 loans were for residents who purchased free-market homes.
"And I have four more applications on my desk for down payment assistance," Franks said.
Franks said one of the success stories from this program is demonstrated in the numbers. Many people who get down payment loans repay the money when they sell their entry-level units and move into other residences. By the time they move, the people who initially borrowed from the program have equity in their homes, so they have a down payment for their next property. So, when the sale of the entry home goes through, they pay back the initial down payment loan, creating revolving funding for the program.
The county housing department has also teamed with Habitat for Humanity to provide down payment assistance through a grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Elyse Howard, development director for Habitat, said those dollars are a vital resource for families because while the program can offer homes for around $185,000, it remains a challenge for families to obtain financing. She noted the average annual family income for Habitat residents is $43,000, so the average $15,000 down payment from the county program truly helps makes home purchases attainable for lower-income families. To date, Habitat has built 74 homes in Eagle County.
For residents who don't have the means or the desire to purchase homes, the county does offer rental options. The bad news is it's very tough to get into those properties.
The county department oversees the operation of two rental projects — the 270-unit Lake Creek Apartments in Edwards and the 72-unit Riverview Apartments in Eagle-Vail. According to Kim Williams, Eagle County housing director, the Lake Creek Village complex is fully occupied, with 77 people on its wait list.
"We have a wait of anywhere from one to three years," she said.
Over at Riverview, the chance of renting a unit is even slimmer. According to Daniel Murray, portfolio manager for the county housing department, the wait for a Riverview unit averages five to seven years. Right now, the county isn't even accepting names for the Riverview wait list.
"Once it gets too long, it gives a lot of families false hope," he said.
But it is the senior citizens in the county who must grapple with longest wait lists. In the town of Eagle, the Golden Eagle Apartments includes 36 units and the Seniors on Broadway project has another 14 apartments. The average time on the wait list can extend from five to 10 years.
"I have families call me every day, asking to get on our wait list," said Matt Andrews, property manager. He noted that once they move into the Eagle center, seniors tend to remain there as long as possible. As a result, there just isn't much turnover at the site.
All of those wait lists show that the county properties are meeting a local need, but they also demonstrate that the need extends far beyond what is being addressed by the public sector.
This spring, the county plans to increase its housing inventory with construction of 22 workforce housing units at a vacant area just east of the Castle Peak Senior Care Community in the Eagle Ranch neighborhood.
The $6.5 million project is a joint effort between Eagle County and the Eagle County Housing and Development Authority. While the units are initially proposed as workforce housing, the project will eventually be converted into independent living units that will operate in conjunction with the Castle Peak Senior Care Community.
"Doing the apartments in the town of Eagle is so strategic from the standpoint that Augustana Care can eventual purchase them for independent living," Commissioner Jill Ryan said. "It's also helping us realize how expensive it is for the county to actually build units."
Ryan said the Eagle Ranch Apartments project has underscored how important it is for the county to partner with other agencies and with developers to address the local housing need. The county housing staff agreed, noting there are a number of public-private partnerships on the horizon.
At the 6West project in Edwards, there will be resident-occupied deed restrictions on 84 of the 120 rental units. The Fox Hollow project, also located in Edwards, features 87 units with four price-capped units and deed restrictions for 36 resident-occupied units.
"When we can partner with developments that are going in where the developer is already accepting the risk and doing the financing, we are just going to be able to get more units and probably more bang for our buck that way than us actually building on property we own," Ryan said. "We don't own that much land, and it is expensive to build."