Residents will make housing sacrifices, study says
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” County residents have pretty modest expectations when it comes to housing, according to a new study.
While previous studies of workforce housing have centered around single-family homes, a University of Colorado Boulder study of the county showed that many residents, including married couples and even families with children, said they were willing to live in condos and duplexes. Further, their top wants for amenities in housing were things like storage and a garage, not high-end finishes or a big yard.
“Many people are okay with forgoing the yard and the white picket fence,” said researcher Josh Perdue.
The study was done over the summer through 318 online survey respondents, five focus groups, elected officials, and some one-on-one, in-depth interviews.
Respondents were middle-class, working professionals, including architects, teachers, and people in management positions, It included both current homeowners and renters.
While previous studies, such as a RRC Associates housing assessment study in 2007 and Urban Land Institute study in 2005 focused on the housing shortfall and price gaps in homebuying, Perdue focused on asking residents what their realistic housing expectations were.
The findings were presented Thursday to a group that included local developers, Avon Mayor Ron Wolfe, Commissioner Peter Runyon, state Rep. Al White (who’s running to represent Eagle County in the state Senate) and commissioner candidate Jon Stavney.
Many of the respondents said they understood that living in Eagle County came with high expenses for housing, and they were willing to make sacrifices to live here. Still, their wants for housing, both in rentals and ownership, tended to be “modest,” Perdue said.
“Nearly everyone I talked to said one of their biggest frustrations was not being able to have pets as renters,” he said. “Something else that came out on the top was storage. Having a place to store skis and bikes was rated consistently high, and having a garage to park their cars in the winter.”
One survey respondent talked about moving to Vail years ago and renting a condo for years until she was able to buy it. She and her husband lived there with their two children ” something they were willing to do to stay in Vail.
Other respondents said they couldn’t imagine doing that, but would be happy to raise families in townhomes or duplexes further downvalley. Top locations besides Vail that residents said they would like to live were Edwards, Eagle and Gypsum.
“People are quite aware of the privilege it is to live in Eagle County, and their wants are modest,” Perdue said. “Many said that deciding to live in Eagle County is like deciding to live in Manhattan, and if that means living in a 600-square-foot home, they’ll do it.”
The study also explored residents’ perceptions on buying deed-restricted homes. Many respondents, especially those who lived in deed-restricted neighborhoods such as Edward’s Miller Ranch, said they were happy with their situation and saw deed-restrictions as a good stepping stone to buying a free-market home.
Residents said they especially liked the different sizes and types of homes available in Miller Ranch and its proximity to shops, restaurants and a grocery store.
However, the numbers showed that less than 40 percent of the respondents who are currently renting said they would want to buy a deed-restricted home.
Perdue said that is because many people feared the limited appreciation they would make on deed-restricted homes would not be enough for them to “move up.”
Stavney, a commissioner candidate and former Eagle Mayor, echoed the remarks of other housing and government officials that more education is necessary to dispel those notions.
“It’s a myth that you’re not getting equity,” he said. “Housing here isn’t the gambling lever you can pull and watch all the coins come down. That’s not the point.”
Another respondent said that it would be impossible for her to maintain her lifestyle without the equity she had established in her market-rate home. She admitted that she was totally reliant on her home equity for financial stability and doubted that there were many people who did not find themselves in the same boat.
For others, the financial strain was still too much. One woman was worried the she wouldn’t be able to continue affording her deed-restricted home, Perdue said.
“She’s worried that if she sells her place, what she makes still won’t be enough to cover the debt she’s accumulated while owning the house,” he said. “Pretty much all of her paycheck goes toward her mortgage and she’s very susceptible to credit card debt and that sort of thing.”
The study showed that many residents were frustrated that yet “another study” was being done on the county’s housing shortage.
“The No. 1 thing is that I heard is that they want something to be done,” Perdue said “They said they feel there’s been delay, and they’re frustrated with that. People want people to start building those homes.”
One respondent commented that if local governments and employers started building affordable homes, there would be a guaranteed demand for them.
And while many respondents said they were happy with their living situations, almost a third were seriously considering moving out of the county in the next few years.
“People had the attitude that they had been here long enough, they’d had their fun, but they just can’t have a family here,” Perdue said.
Don Cohen of the Eagle County Economic Council acknowledged that the county is behind in providing affordable rentals and for-sale homes.
He compared Eagle County to Pitkin County, which has a population of 15,000 compared to Eagle County’s 50,000. However, Pitkin County, which includes Aspen, has several hundred more deed- or rent-restricted properties.
Perdue recommended proactive solutions from officials, employers and no-profit organizations.
“It’s pretty clear that some non market based solutions are necessary, although that’s difficult for some to accept,” he said.
Staff writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or email@example.com.
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