Report confirming COVID-19 impacts on Routt County housing a ‘wake-up call,’ according to officials
A person would need to earn $120K to $150K per year to afford a home in Steamboat
Editor’s Note: This story was updated to include the title of the report.
A survey delivered to thousands of residents across Routt, Grand, Pitkin, San Miguel, Summit and Eagle counties found residents are deeply concerned about trends of wealthy out-of-town residents moving to mountain towns, driving up housing prices and taking affordable housing options from locals, which became more prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic when many could work remotely and chose to leave the cities for Colorado’s ski towns.
The Mountain Migration Report, conducted by the Colorado Association of Ski Towns and Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, was completed by 464 randomly selected residents in Routt County, with 64 being part-time residents. While all counties surveyed saw increases in part-time residents spending more time in resort communities, Routt County’s part-time respondents indicated interest in doubling their average time in the county by 2022.
“People really like it (in Routt County) because it isn’t the city,” Jon Stavney, executive director of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, wrote in the report.
Every survey respondent ranked affordable housing and the availability of housing as severe problems, and the top two critical issues facing mountain communities, with backcountry crowding ranked as the third most-important concern.
Such stark growth and housing issues can create a “not-in-my-backyard” attitude against growth and development, Stagney said, a resistance against the actions necessary to address the challenges.
“Such reactions often impact attempts to create affordable housing more than they do higher-end projects,” Stagney said. “Whether this dynamic can be overcome will require considerable finesse, vision and community buy-in earned by community leaders.”
Steamboat Springs City Council Member Kathi Meyer said the survey confirmed what council has suspected: COVID-19 caused a shift in Routt County’s real estate market and made housing in the city less plentiful and more expensive than it already was.
“We don’t have any new supply, but we have a tremendous amount of demand,” Meyer said. “The amount of wealth that is coming here is shocking, and it makes it more difficult for people who are already here to buy a new home or even rent a new home.”
More specifically, the report stated, homes in Routt County during the first quarter of 2021 were selling at nearly twice the rate at which they were becoming available. The average home sale price was $866,527 in 2020.
“It’s clear that the housing challenges we have had for a long time have just accelerated this year,” Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton said. “This report is a wake-up call and a call to action.”
A quick search of the local housing market showed a buyer would need to make about $120,000 to $150,000 per year to afford a house in the city, not factoring in dependents and other bills, according to Melton.
“That’s a real problem,” Melton said.
The survey showed a large increase in Routt County housing prices from 2019 to 2020, but the county still saw less sharp increases than Eagle, Pitkin and San Miguel counties.
“When you put us side by side with these other communities, we’re actually in much better shape on almost every indicator,” Melton said. “To me, that represents a real opportunity for us to have a conversation with our colleagues in those communities and ask what they wish they had done 15 years ago.”
The recent increased pressure on the housing market has since caused the municipalities of Frisco and Crested Butte to declare housing emergencies.
While Melton said Routt County may not be facing a crisis as deep those communities, she believes the city and county should continue seeking solutions to their own affordable housing crises.
“We have a real opportunity to avoid some of the things that have made it worse in other communities,” Melton said.
Some potential solutions to ease the crisis, as recommended by the survey report, are to embrace high-density housing, tax short-term rental units and take advantage of vacant homes. These measures, Melton said, could save Routt County from falling deeper into a crisis but often, are not popular among community members.
“Sometimes, it’s really hard to implement those things because people are resistant to them,” Melton said. “All of us love having a big backyard or our neighbors living far away. Those are things we appreciate, but they’re not practical with creating affordability.”
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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