Experts: ‘Housing crisis’ has hit Eagle Co.
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” It’s official. Eagle County is in a “housing crisis” and can expect to feel the economic impacts in the next few years, experts say.
The county needs 3,400 homes now, both affordable and market-priced, to address the current housing shortage, and more than 8,000 homes in the next decade to keep up with future growth, according to a recent study by RRC Associates and Rees Consulting, firms that specialize in housing analysis in resort communities.
Also, local residents own about 51 percent of the homes in Eagle County, a drop from the 69 percent of locally owned homes in 2000, the study said.
“You’re losing ground as far as the relationship between the local population and second-home owners,” said Melanie Rees of Rees Consulting.
That imbalance has driven up the prices of homes, creating a widening gap between what local workers can afford and the price of free market homes, Rees said.
That gap is largest for households earning 81 percent to 120 percent of the area’s average median income, or $54,000 to $73,000, the study showed.
Almost a third of households in the county pay more than 30 percent of their incomes for rent and mortgage, said Rees.
“When you’re paying that much of your income here for housing, that’s tough, because everything else here is more expensive,” she said.
And wages aren’t helping either.
Between 2000 and 2006, median sales prices of homes in the county increased by 60 percent, but the median household income during the same time period only increased by 28 percent, the study said.
The study’s findings will help shape future housing policy, said County Housing Director Alex Potente.
According to the study, for every 10,00 square feet of commercial space, 734 square feet of worker housing is needed. If developers do not build the worker housing, they can should pay $163,000 per home instead, the study said.
Those numbers will be used in the county’s proposed housing guidelines, which will require developers to build housing for the new employees their project will create, Potente said.
Developer Gerry Flynn, of Edwards-based Polar Star Development, said the study’s findings were not surprising.
“I think it’s a strong call to action,” he said. “But we’ve really increased awareness of the problem over the last year.”
More business owners, developers, and local officials are informed about the problem, and a countywide housing action team is working on affordable housing projects, Flynn said.
“There is a lot of discussion right now, the most notable would be Stratton Flats, which we’re trying to get off the ground right now,” he said.
The Stratton Flats neighborhood is a partnership between a Basalt developer and Eagle County to bring 226 affordable homes to Gypsum.
But despite the renewed push for housing, the valley’s economy will take a hard hit if workers do not have housing, experts said.
“You’re going to increasingly have trouble finding employees. It’s going to get worse, not better, and probably substantially worse,” Chris Cares of RRC Associates said.
Some of the effects are already apparent, such as Vail’s Sweet Basil restaurant having to shorten its hours due to staff shortage, he said.
Employees are moving downvalley, and employers will soon follow, eventually leaving the county altogether. Sales revenue will be lost due to shortened hours and businesses moving away, Rees said.
Most people do not consider the situation at the “crisis level” yet because businesses are still doing relatively well right now, said Eagle County Economic Business Council President Don Cohen.
But the housing and worker shortage will get tougher over the next few years until more worker housing can be built, he said.
“Someone told me after seeing the numbers, ‘It’s a lot worse than I though it was.’ And there’s no denying it, we can see the next big storm coming. We’re gonna feel it this year, and we’ll really start seeing it in 2009,” Cohen said.
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or email@example.com.