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Regional housing supply scrutinizied

by Veronica Whitney

Unless local governments plan for more housing, data shows thousands of new workers arriving in the region in the next 10 years might not have a place to live, Eagle County officials said Thursday.

To discuss this and other issues related to housing, representatives of eight counties forming the Rural Resort Region are meeting today in Grand Lake for the Mountain Workforce Housing Summit.

The Rural Resort Region, an organization that works to identify resort community issues in Eagle, Lake, Garfield, Pitkin, Clear Creek, Grand, Jackson and Summit counties, has identified workforce housing as the primary focus for 2003, said K.T. Gazunis, Eagle County housing director.

Gazunis said she expects to get data on how many workers are projected to come into the region in the next five to 10 years and how much housing they will need.

“I saw glimpses of the research done by the Rural Resort Region and it’s scary,” Gazunis said. “We’re talking about thousands of new jobs and I don’t know where all these people are going to live. There’s not enough housing, period. And there’s not a lot of land left, either.”

Is there enough?

County Commissioner Tom Stone, who is also attending today’s housing summit, says research shows only projections and the counties should deal with reality.

“And that is that there is an abundance of housing in the market today,” he said. “A lot of private developers responded to the housing shortage all at the same time, that was coincidental with the decline in job growth.”

Stone said the projections are based on census 2000 data, and that information was collected during a period when the economy was growing.

Although currently there’s a lot of availability in the rental market in Eagle County, Gazunis calls it, “a temporary situation.”

“We now have 200 units for rent, the majority of which are two-bedrooms at Buffalo Ridge (in Avon),” she said. “Two hundred is huge by Eagle County standards, but that probably won’t be available once the Village of Avon is completed.”

As the Village of Avon builds out and creates hundreds of new jobs, Gazunis said, that surplus will be gone.

“In this case, the inventory came online before the workers arrived,” she said. “It’s misleading to think that at this particular moment, the housing inventory is ahead of jobs coming online. In a while, it will be the other way around.”

In terms of homes available for sale for $225,00 and less, there are only 50 two-bedroom homes, Gazunis said.

“That inventory makes me nervous,” she added.

But Stone said he believes the county has enough housing for now.

“The market will have to adjust, we’ll need to wait until the economy improves and there are more jobs to reduce the current vacancy,” he said. “No one has a crystal ball to predict when that will be.”

A regional approach

Gazunis called today’s meeting a “regional approach instead of a local approach or piece meal.”

“It’s to take a look at the big picture, acknowledging that the economy in our region is similar and interdependent with the other counties,” she said. “It’s not only about what we could do to provide more local housing, but also work cooperatively to improve transportation.”

What she hopes comes out of the summit, Gazunis said, is local jurisdictions adopting regional housing-, transportation- and economic-development policies.

“How these would be implemented will be presented tomorrow at the meeting,” Gazunis said Thursday.

Stone said the counties need to continue to look at innovative ways to respond to problems on a more timely basis.

“If you look at Miller Ranch as an example, it took us three years in the making before the first residents occupied the homes,” he said. “We need to find ways to respond to the market quicker.”

Still, Stone said: “Jobs first and then housing. There’s plenty of space to live right now.”

Today’s housing summit will also look at ways to remove regulatory barriers to provide housing, financing options and employer incentives.

“The Rural Resort Region is trying to say throughout the region, “There are jobs coming and we need to plan now how and where we’re going to house this workforce,” Gazunis said. “If there’s a lack of housing, the prices will go up and then there will be the panic.”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at

vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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