Recent Writings

Filling the housing void

Ain’t got no place to lay your head / Somebody came and took your bed / Don’t worry, be happy. – Bob Marley

An array of issues confronts Clear Creek as the county transitions from dependency on Henderson Mine tax revenue to a broader-based economy. Concurrently, the county is being buffeted by economic pressures from beyond: Front Range and Summit County population and economic growth explosion, the ever-widening income gap that provides upper-level income individuals increasing disposable wealth, and CDOT’s fixation to triple-lane I-70 from Floyd Hill to the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnels among them.

That economic uncertainty will continue to have ramifications across the board, but none more so than on housing availability. Housing not only for the indigent, but also for hard-working wage-earning individuals and families with children is Clear Creek’s primary seminal issue.

Throughout the Clear Creek Valley, developable space is a finite resource. Commissioner Tim Mauck told me during our conversation on KYGT the county is updating its 2012 housing-needs assessment in which there was already an estimated 350-plus housing unit shortage. Projections are by 2040 the county’s population will explode from about 9,000 to 15,000, a 60 percent growth in two decades.

Financial experts caution that a person or household that spends more than 30 percent of its income on housing will not comfortably be able to address other needs: food, clothing, health care, and so on. Right now, a modest, decent two-bedroom apartment or condo rents for between $1,200 and $1,500. That requires an income of $3,600 to $4,500 after-tax net. To purchase a home requires considerably more.

Recently, the school district found itself blindsided and unfairly caught in a brouhaha about a rumored sale of Digger Field and the bus barn. The controversy was helpful in one regard: It raised awareness about housing.

The developer wants to build houses in the $325,000 to $438,000 range, which would effectively keep many Clear Creek workers and professionals out. Questions arise:

  • Who would buy the homes?
  • Would they be primarily owner-occupied?
  • Would they be second homes or investments for short-term rentals?
  • Would they lead to gentrification of both Clear Creek and Idaho Springs?
  • Would they, once built and occupied, put pressure on the town to scrape nearby “unattractive” units?
  • Would they lead to higher property taxes for the area, which could force seniors and low-income individuals and families out?

The commissioner candidates’ responses will give voters a clearer understanding on their approach to the housing problem.

Reviewing the candidates’ websites, only Democrat George Marlin offers insight into his thinking. Republican Mike Hillman says he would “address the housing shortage,” which can mean anything from tent cities and subsidized units to gentrification, while Independent Bill Macy doesn’t list housing on his to-do list.

Marlin states, “The housing shortage means that there isn’t a large enough workforce to attract businesses that would create stable, well-paying jobs.” He’s correct. Studies clearly show the correlation between job opportunity and housing quality.

Further, there’s what Mauck calls “bleeding,” the outflow of Clear Creek wealth in housing, grocery, and health care dollars being spent elsewhere. And the elephant in the room: The burgeoning growth of short-term rentals including VRBO’s and Airbnb’s that put many housing units off-limits to Clear Creek citizens.

Housing is a complex problem that requires not a cavalier response but a deliberative interwoven one. To blithely dismiss it by saying “Don’t worry, the market will take care of it” demonstrates a fundamental lack of economic comprehension and community concern. It’s abject amoralism, fatalistic capitalism driven by an “unseen hand” in which the highest good is profit and the least concern is for the plight of the people.

Housing is a moral as well as an economic issue. A community that fails to provide for its own or prioritizes wants and whims of outsiders over community needs is morally bankrupt.

Clear Creek deserves leaders with heads screwed on properly. Our eyes are focused on the commissioner wannabes. Gentlemen?

Note: Saturday, August 25th, at noon on KYGT. BOE Mitch Houston on the school property sale and Georgetown Town Administrator Kent Brown about Georgetown’s work to address the glut of VRBO properties. You can listen to those conversations as well as the one with Mauck at http://www.jerryfabyanic.com/thinking-liberally/.

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