Living in the mountains has it’s perks as well as challenges. In Park County, one of those challenges is finding affordable housing.
Average prices for houses have skyrocketed to between $450,000-$500,000, and on the other end of the spectrum are older trailer parks; nothing affordable for working families in-between.
Park County’s housing dilemma, which is somewhat common in many locations statewide, is attributed to a myriad of factors such as supply and demand and an abundance of short-term rentals.
With fewer homes available and more people wanting to move here, the price of homes continues to climb.
There are many homes that have been purchased for the sole purpose of short-term rentals, which net the owners a solid profit but reduces the number of homes available to purchase or rent affordably.
The county is unable to fill badly needed positions within the county itself, unable to pay adequate wages for employees to procure affordable housing. Businesses are dealing with the same dilemma.
“It’s a vicious circle,” said Commissioner Dick Elsner.
In the Nov. 12 issue of The Flume written by Lori Bennett, Park County Assessor Monica Jones stated that “the median sales price for 2020 was $405,000. For 2021 median sales price is $490,000, a 21% jump. Average sale price for 2020 was $431,056 and in 2021 it is $537,731, a 25% jump.”
Sheriff Tom McGraw lamented over the failed proposition of the one percent tax rate.
“It’s concerning, especially since the bulk of the revenue that would have been gained would have come from tourists and part timers,” said McGraw.
If the tax increase would have passed, it would have put him in a better position to hire more deputies and offer somewhat competitive salaries.
“The deputies I have can’t find affordable housing in the county, so they are forced to commute; one lives in Canyon City,” McGraw said. “If we can’t provide housing for county personnel, we are going to implode.”
In discussing the current permit process for construction within the county, Commissioner Amy Mitchell said ongoing delays in that process are occurring due to an employee shortage. She said the county was trying to get creative with regards to performing inspections, and trying to find qualified people to do the job.
According to Commissioner Ray Douglas, there are lots available within the town of Fairplay that would connect with sewer and water facilities, which would make putting in a new home far less expensive than living outside the limits. Fairplay, Alma, and Bailey are the only three locations in the county with that type of infrastructure, and Fairplay’s plant is under-utilized.
Manufactured or pre-fab homes would be an alternative, but insurance costs and mortgages are harder to get even if the home is affixed and unmovable. Elsner said that is something the county needs to look into as a way to encourage manufactured homes as a way to bring the home costs down.
Prices for manufactured homes vary according to square footage, number of bedrooms, bathrooms and other amenities, but the average cost for a manufactured home is around $150,000, and if built on one of the lots with connection to established infrastructure, it alleviates the cost of drilling a well and putting in a septic system.
According to Karen Leute, who has worked for Black Mountain Drilling for 20 years, a new well can cost around $15,000-$20,000 and is dependent on how long it takes to find a suitable drilling location and how far down they have to drill. As it stands now, her company is booked into 2023.
Habitat for Humanity, which the county is working with to build affordable homes is hoping to break ground this spring on eight new homes. They are also considering manufactured homes as a way to keep costs down.
Elsner said he wants to explore the possibility of changing the status of the home after it is built. If the home is on a solid foundation and wheels and axles removed, that takes away the “mobile” aspect and it should be considered a dwelling no different than a stick home. That would also result in less expensive insurance and mortgages for homeowners.
Other solutions are being considered to change the tax status of short-term rentals. Currently they are taxed as residential properties, but the county is trying to reclassify them as commercial business, which would increase their tax rate.
Elsner is currently working with the state to establish legislation that would do just that. Elsner feels there needs to be regulations for short-term rentals to address the number of people that live in them.
Commissioner Ray Douglas echoed the concerns of his colleagues.
“It’s challenging because the pay rate is minimum wage and people can’t afford to live here, but hopefully the county can help with property they own and can work with Habitat for Humanity to help rectify the situation,” he said.
“With the homes we plan to build with Habitat for Humanity, we want an arrangement that allows county workers and school staff to get a crack at them first,” said Elsner.
It appears that everyone is well aware of the housing shortage and affordability in Park County. Everyone is feeling the pinch with not having enough workers and not being able to have affordable housing for employees. The County is trying to hire new employees, but many applicants are out of the area and moving to the county is cost prohibitive. Commuting is becoming less viable due to a recent increase in gas prices.
Right now, the housing shortage is disconcerting to say the least, and to call it a crisis would not be overstating the situation. But county officials are scrambling to find solutions, lending at least some glimmer of hope for those currently in need of affordable housing in Park County.