Impacts of affordable housing demand felt throughout region
Affordable housing is considered to be households that spend no more than 30 percent of their income on housing, but for many residents across the Colorado River and Roaring Fork valleys that low a number can seem unattainable.
However, owners or renters that spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing are considered cost-burdened, according to Economic and Planning Systems.
“The housing issue is felt throughout the region, and it doesn’t know boundaries,” Chris Cares, managing director at RRC Associates, said at Tuesday’s Garfield County Board of County Commissioners work session. “The survey provided foundation for future housing discussions.”
The survey he described was part of a regional housing needs analysis, which looked at the housing demand throughout the region through the eyes of the residents and business owners living through it.
The analysis used surveys administered to local households between Aspen and Parachute as well as residents located between Eagle and Dotsero.
A total of 2,111 people responded to the household survey.
Another survey was administered to employers to understand local housing and employment issues from their perspective. A total of 300 employer surveys were received.
While there were many characteristics and common responses that stood out in the data collected, one of the key takeaways was the challenges and burden the widespread commuter employee base puts on the local economy and housing market.
According to the study, more than 26,000 workers (out of around 47,000 employed residents) cross paths in their daily commute versus just 19,000 employed residents who live where they work.
David Schwartz, executive vice president of Economic and Planning Systems, who presented the data to the commissioners on Tuesday, said limitations of these cross-commuter patterns are evident throughout the surveys.
Having such a large portion of the population that has to commute to work every day has a variety of impacts on the region as well as the individual towns. Residents’ quality of life can worsen, more stress is put on the roads and carbon emissions increase.
“This whole study is for elevating how interconnected everything is and how interdependent we are on each other,” he said.
The cross-commuting patterns shown from residents across both valleys is what researchers defined as the market “taking care of itself”; however, it’s not taking care of its workers that may not want to commute so far every day.
For instance, in Basalt, the market shows that the town is importing 85 percent of its workforce and exporting 90 percent of its resident workforce. This can present challenges in creating a tight-knit community.
Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes spoke during the comment portion of the work session about the stress and challenges cross commuting had on him and his family.
“Our friends and neighbors [is what] make a community,” he added.
According to the analysis, housing in the New Castle to Parachute area is meeting housing demands from other parts of the region; however, demand for housing exceeds its supply in the Glenwood Springs and the Aspen/Snowmass area.
“Pitkin County’s lack of housing is our human service crisis,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said following the presentation.
Commissioner Mike Samson said the analysis provided interesting information, but that most of it boiled down to common sense.
“One of the major problems of housing in Garfield County is because of things done or not being done in Pitkin County,” he added.
When asked about the connection between the housing situation in Pitkin and Garfield counties, Schwartz said it was obvious that the bulk of employment is up there, and it is creating the housing demand.
According to the analysis, 1.3 to 1.4 is the average number of jobs for adults in the region.
“This speaks to the necessity of the condition,” Schwartz explained. “It speaks to the necessity of people needing to earn more money because of the housing situation.”
Despite the work session taking up most of Tuesday morning, the packed room of audience members filled with concerned residents and government officials stayed and wanted to know more about the local housing situation by the end.
Glenwood Springs City Council member Paula Stepp asked if the researchers included any solutions to some of the problems presented.
Schwartz said he believed a private-public partnership with local businesses to address affordable housing could be an advantageous route for the county and cities to take, and the survey indicated a willingness from employers to offer housing assistance.
“It depends on the representation of the business community, but there is precedent,” he added.
However, Schwartz said he felt the problem was far too expansive, ranging and connecting into several neighborhoods in Garfield, Pitkin and Eagle counties, and will need regional or even state funding solutions.
“I really think this needs to be something new, something creative,” he added.
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