School workers, others ‘just can’t find rental housing’
If the Roaring Fork School District and the Town of Carbondale move forward with a proposed affordable housing development, it could make a noticeable difference for the district’s employee retention rate.
The plan calls for the construction of around 100 units of affordable housing in the field between the Third Street Center and Bridges High School, with some of them earmarked specifically for RFSD employees.
It’s pretty difficult for a first-year teacher paid $35,391 to find a place to live in or near the district, which covers Glenwood, Carbondale and Basalt. Some applicants end up turning down a job offer as a result, or move away after one year.
“They just can’t find rental housing. A couple of years ago they could find it but it wasn’t affordable, but now they can’t even find it,” said assistant superintendent Shannon Pelland. “It’s not just teachers. Food service, custodians, bus drivers — they’re all critically important. We’re hiring 60-80 staff members in the fall every year and more than half of those are coming from out of the area. There’s just not enough inventory available to meet the need.”
Lynn Kirchner of Amore Realty attributes some of that to a slew of foreclosures last year, which both decreased the number of available properties and increased the number of people looking for a place to stay. What’s more, the scarcity is driving up prices, and the workforce can’t keep up.
“Our wages in this valley do not reflect the cost of living,” Kirchner said. “I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better, because our economy has not turned around. There are still people struggling to make ends meet, keep a roof over their head and pay the mortgage.”
It’s not just the price, but the type of rentals available, noted Pelland.
“If you’re a teacher in Cherry Creek, you’ve got a huge range of housing to choose from,” she said. “There’s just not that range of housing options that you have access to on the Front Range.”
“To exist here people have to go to the extremes,” Kirchner agreed. “I have three teachers renting a house together right now, because it’s the only thing that they can find.”
ALL-STAR TEACHER TEAM
Others opt for long commutes.
“Several teachers weren’t able to find housing anywhere near Carbondale,” said Roaring Fork High School Principal Drew Adams, who in the past has actively helped connect prospective faculty with places to live.
“I can recruit really high-quality teachers, but if I can’t find them housing, it’s all for naught,” he explained.
RFHS has struggled with the issue for some time.
“I think you could have made an all-star team of teachers from those who left Roaring Fork because they couldn’t afford to live in the valley,” said Matt Hauptly, who spent six years as an English teacher and coach at the school before he left to pursue another degree in 2006.
“There’s basically three groups of people that can swing living in the valley on a teacher salary: longtime locals, someone whose spouse makes a bigger income or someone who has some family money supporting them,” he observed.
Hauptly himself used a small inheritance to buy a house and keep it on a $38,000 salary. He now serves as director of curriculum instruction at Holy Family High School in Broomfield, and says the cost of living is one of the reasons he hasn’t returned to the valley.
“Finding housing anywhere near Carbondale, either to rent or to buy, I think is prohibitively expensive,” he said. “To get any version of the white picket fence, you’re talking five or six hundred thousand dollars.”
He has some doubts about whether an affordable housing complex is the best way to address that.
“On paper it’s a pretty good idea, but in practice I have some reservations,” he said.
IT’S NOT JUST TEACHERS
Specifically, he worries that the homes would appreciate at a much slower rate than the market. While that’s beneficial in terms of property tax, it could make it costly for teachers to move if they get married, have kids or just want a change of scenery.
“The real thing that would help teachers stay in the valley is paying them better,” he observed.
Pelland says that’s not really an option. Eighty-three percent of the school’s budget already goes to salaries and benefits.
“It’s not like there’s a huge amount of wiggle room,” she said. “There are certainly states that pay teachers much better than Colorado does, because there are states that have much higher tax burdens that Colorado does, and those to things go hand in hand.”
Moreover, the school district isn’t the only one suffering from the housing shortage.
“It’s not just limited to teachers. It’s sad to see our firemen, policemen, and nurses have to commute from way downvalley because they can’t afford to live here,” Kirchner said. “I think the community needs to get involved with affordable housing that’s not an oxymoron. Affordable means something that the majority of our blue-collar, community-support people can afford.”
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