No room for renters as population, prices rise

Looking for a place to rent?

Here’s the reality: Finding a place is “challenging at best,” said Lynn Kirchner, owner of Amore Realty in Carbondale. “Nothing is available in Carbondale.”

Mathematically, but not practically, things are infinitely better in Glenwood Springs, where Craig Rathbun said that he recently knew of 12 rental properties in the general Glenwood area, only three of which were advertised.

“We have a tremendous lack of inventory for sale or lease,” said Rathbun, president of Fleisher Land & Homes. It’s the lowest housing inventory in the area since he arrived here in 2001, he said.

“There’s been no significant construction since the recession in 2008, 2009,” he said. “People keep moving here. People keep having babies and graduating from high school” and need places to live. In addition, the market sees a “steady decrease because of obsolescence” — some housing falls into disrepair.

One consequence of demand outstripping supply is rising prices for both homes for sale and rentals. Sale prices for homes were up throughout the region last year, and rent rates are following suit.

In Carbondale, a 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath place with a two-car garage would rent for $1,800 to $2,100 a month, Kirchner said.

She has a client who wanted to sell or rent his place and thought he would handle it himself, but was inundated with 200 calls from people wanting to rent it.

Rathbun, who mainly handles home sales and investment properties, said Glenwood will have about 350 more rental units in about a year, what he called “workforce housing” within reach of auto dealership and service workers or civil servants. He estimated rents for a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment with parking would “nudge up against $2,000 a month.”

The crunch and the prices “make people say the commute is worth it” to Silt or New Castle, where Kirchner said prices can be $600 to $800 a month less.

If you can find rental property even there.

Rathbun said Fleisher sold its Rifle property management division, which oversaw 260 units that were all recently occupied.

And Kirchner said upvalley choices are limited.

“I heard from the Basalt police chief who said they need to find homes for officers,” she said.

The situation has serious implications for attracting and retaining workers such as civil servants in jobs that a generation ago were considered solidly middle class. The Roaring Fork School District recently passed on an opportunity to partner with Carbondale on a project that would have provided about 100 housing units for district employees. While needed, the district said it couldn’t make such a project work financially.

Kirchner, who handles property sales and manages some homes that are rented, said she placed eight teachers, four and four, in two rental properties.

“I don’t think six are staying because they can’t afford to live here,” she said.

The Roaring Fork Valley is more geographically constrained and politically growth-averse than western Garfield County, as it is more expensive and perceived as more desirable.

The solution, said Rathbun, is “millennial housing” — small, higher-density apartments particularly around downtown Glenwood with retail and office space mixed in. He advocates both the city of Glenwood Springs and Garfield County identifying sites to rezone for multifamily housing.

“The Confluence project would be wonderful,” he said, referring to the largely undeveloped area near the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers just west of downtown Glenwood. A water treatment plant there has been decomissioned, though not demolished, and several development ideas are in the works.

Of the projects planned, one is near Glenwood Meadows and one is north of Interstate 70 at the former Vista Motel site.

For now, Kirchner said, she refers people to the Roaring Fork Swap Facebook page and to place ads introducing themselves. “I tell people they need to be creative.”

“Affordable housing here is an oxymoron,” she said. “It always has been and it always will be.”

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