Attainable housing vs. affordable housing. Often, the two phrases are used interchangeably, but are they the same? In my opinion, the answer is no.
Last week, the Post Independent ran a story on the apartment complex now known as Six Canyon Apartments in West Glenwood. I’ve been watching the comments on this story on Facebook. It is clear that the majority of those weighing in were hoping for something less expensive than the “market rate” rents that are likely to be charged. Many of the comments refer to these units not being affordable housing.
Out of curiosity, I reviewed the video archive of the City Council meetings in which this project was discussed. The developers mentioned building “attainable housing.” However, I did not find that they mentioned “affordable housing.”
So what is the difference? While I am not a housing expert, I have spent a number of years on the Glenwood Planning Commission and City Council wrestling with housing issues. It is a complex issue and one that usually is accompanied by extensive charts, graphs and statistics. At that point, most eyes glaze over.
That being said, there are a few pieces of information that are pertinent. One is that the current, accepted definition of “affordable housing” by Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is housing that requires 30% or less of your income.
In 2017, the area median household income (AMI) in Garfield County, based on the U.S. Census Bureau, was $66,503 which would translate into $1,663 per month for housing.
With a 2 percent adjustment per year, that figure may be closer to $1,730 in 2019. Median income calculations vary, depending on source, and may vary greatly. HUD uses a different calculation that results in a significantly higher AMI in Garfield County.
In Garfield County, for 2019, Colorado Housing and Finance Association (CHFA) has determined that the maximum rent for Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) Projects for a two-bedroom unit for those at 100% of AMI is $1,770. These units are subsidized and there are very few in Glenwood Springs.
“Attainable housing” often refers to “market rate” housing. A household with an annual income of about $83,000, or about 120% of AMI, might fall into this category, expecting to pay monthly housing costs of about $2,075.
A household at 150% of AMI, or approximately $103,800 could expect to pay approximately $2,600 each month for housing. While this may not seem affordable to many, this is seen as attainable.
In this area, many people opt to go to Silt, Rifle Parachute and even further to find “affordable” housing. This results in long commutes and increased transportation costs.
As Clark Anderson of Community Builders explained in the February Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association meeting, this is called the “H+T Index.” While the goal is to keep housing costs at 30% of income, the “H+T Index” should not go above 45% of income. Anything more is a cost burden.
However, there is even more to consider than dollars and percentages. Time and connection to the community and family must be considered.
I remember a discussion with a Glenwood Springs Police Officer who lived “down valley.” He said that the fact that he could not live and work in the same community created a disconnect for him. He didn’t feel fully a part of either place.
I understand that disconnect. I currently commute to Aspen on a daily basis. On a very good day, it is about an hour and 10-minute commute on RFTA’s BRT. More often, it is an hour and a half or longer depending on road conditions and traffic.
This adds three hours to my “work day.” I also don’t have a solid feeling of being “home” in Glenwood because I spend so much time away.
While Six Canyon Apartments is a far cry from perfect, it increases the supply of housing in Glenwood and, like the Lofts, provides some level of quality housing. I have heard horror stories of the condition of some of the existing rental units that are at the same price point of these two developments.
The housing issue is far from over. There are no quick fixes or easy answers. This area is tough for developers to make projects pencil out due to land prices, wages and construction costs.
It is tough on employers who cannot find or retain employees due to housing issues. And, it is especially tough on families forced to deal with long commutes, and time away from family, friends and community.
The discussion must continue, but it must be a regional discussion. No one community or entity is going to solve this one on their own.
Kathryn Trauger lives in and writes from her hometown of Glenwood Springs. She has served the community as a member of Glenwood Springs City Council and chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, and she currently serves as the chair of the city’s Financial Advisory Board. Her column, Perspective, appears monthly in the Post Independent. She may be reached at email@example.com or at 970-379-4849.