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GarCo housing becoming less affordable

While Garfield County is surfing the wave of a booming economy, working families find it ever more difficult to afford their own home here.An affordable housing study commissioned by the county notes that wages may have risen 18 percent between 1999 and 2005, but prices for single-family homes have jumped 48 percent, putting them out of reach for many.According to the study, which RCC Associates Inc. and McCormick and Associates Inc. began in 2000, out of the 809 units listed for sale in Garfield County in October 2005, 43 percent are priced at or above $500,000. Most of those homes are in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, but every community in the county has homes for sale at that price.Housing prices have driven workers to the more affordable communities along the Colorado River – New Castle, Silt, Rifle and Parachute. But the majority commute to the Aspen area and Glenwood Springs for work.While those communities have had cheaper housing prices, that is changing because of an ever-growing population and increased demand for housing.The Colorado Department of Local Affairs projects that total jobs in Garfield County will increase by 31 percent in 2015 as compared to 2000, adding about 8,740 jobs and a need for approximately 7,600 workers. About 83 percent, DOLA projects, will live in Garfield County and the remainder will commute from other areas.As county population continues to grow, the need for affordable housing will only increase.”We are not providing for lower-end housing,” said county senior long-range planner Randy Russell. The study found that by 2015, with the growth in jobs since 2000, the county will need an additional 3,895 units to house those workers, and 73 percent should be in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. Of those, 33 percent should be rentals.Studies of affordable housing reckon affordability based on the area median income. In Garfield County, the AMI is $56,900 for a three-person household.Today, a family earning 120 percent of the AMI, or $68,280 annually, cannot afford the average price of a single-family home in Glenwood Springs, which in 2005 was $325,000, or Carbondale, where a single-family home averaged $395,000.Currently, a family earning less than the area median income cannot not afford a home in New Castle or Silt.Nor has construction kept up with demand for affordable housing. Between 2000 and 2005, housing growth in the county was slowest in Glenwood Springs, which has a lack of available open land for development.The highest number of residential units in that period have been constructed in Rifle, New Castle and unincorporated Garfield County.Glenwood Meadows will add 120 units, and White River in Rifle, 44 units. Both of these developments are mixed-income rentals, with a portion financed with Low Income Housing Tax Credits.Rentals are also in high demand, and prices have climbed as the vacancy rate has plummeted. With a 2 percent vacancy rate countywide, rents are rising due to lack of supply, the study said.Russell said the lack of affordable housing is the fault of developers as well as government for not requiring them. It’s also a perceptual problem.”To be affordable, we need higher density (of buildings), and people don’t want that,” Russell said.Local governments have taken steps to increase the stock of affordable housing by requiring developers to provide them as a percentage of their projects, or by imposing a fee in lieu of those units.Governments also need to plan for growth, Russell said.”I’m concerned that people are not taking a realistic look at where these people are going to land,” he said. “Glenwood Springs is going to reach build-out in six to seven years, right at 12,000 people. Then they’re done.”When municipalities can’t take in anymore people, the spillover will end up in the county, which historically hasn’t had the utilities and services in place to absorb a significant increase in population.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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