Housing affordability, or lack thereof, continues to be a major issue in La Plata County, Regional Housing Alliance (RHA) director Karen Iverson told Bayfield town trustees on Oct. 7.
Median household income in the county is fairly comparable to state and national levels, she said, but the median home price in the county is 42 percent above the state median and 85 percent above the national median price.
According to a La Plata County Housing Needs Study and Action Plan, 65 percent of households can't afford the median home price of $310,000. That price needs an income of $78,300.
A $45,000 income qualifies for a $170,000 home, Iverson said. RHA clients are generally looking for $215,000 or less. "There's a significant gap between demand and supply," she said.
According to the Durango Area Association of Realtors third quarter report printed recently in the Durango Herald, the county-wide median price was $336,200, up from $308,000 last year.
The median price in Bayfield was $245,000, down from $262,750 for the third quarter last year. The decrease mainly reflected prices for older homes, with little change in prices for homes less than 10 years old.
The median price for Bayfield rural area homes was $248,500, down from $265,000 last year.
In Durango the third quarter median price was $390,000, up from $369,000 last year. The Durango area rural median was $391,450, up from $377,000 last year.
Iverson said the rental market also is extremely tight in the county, with a 2-percent vacancy rate in Durango versus a normal 5-percent vacancy rate. Rent prices have increased by 17 percent over the past two years.
She noted a recent housing market study in Ignacio which found only one rental unit available for the whole town. RHA is helping Ignacio's ongoing effort to get workforce housing built on 5.6 acres the town owns north west of Pine River Community Learning Center in Candelaria Heights.
Iverson didn't list rental figures for Bayfield.
RHA provides classes for prospective home buyers and several forms of gap financing. Iverson said 17 percent of RHA's home portfolio is in Bayfield, including the Homestead Trails subdivision near Gem Village.
One of RHA's loan programs is sponsored by Durango Mountain Resort for their employees. Iverson said one person who was recruited for a DMR management position has bought a home near Bayfield despite the distance to DMR.
RHA also has a new 50-unit apartment in Durango for households with annual incomes below $35,000, Iverson said.
Mayor Rick Smith suggested home ownership classes for high school seniors as a service RHA could provide. A significant number of local graduates would like to stay in the community but don't think they can because of the housing prices, he said. Iverson liked that idea.
Trustee Matt Salka said that as a sole proprietor business owner, it's been hard for him to qualify for a mortgage. "A little over a year ago, I took a class from RHA, and it really helped. This winter I'll be calling you again. I'm getting my foot in the door to get a loan. ... I'm trying to stay in city limits. It's really hard (to buy) unless you can go for a foreclosure or something that's been trashed."
Bayfield and Ignacio are RHA members and have seats on their board of directors.
The County Housing Action Plan covers needs broader than those addressed by RHA, such as senior or special needs housing, emergency homeless prevention and short-term shelter, and transitional housing.
Along with statistics given by Iverson, the plan summary says 350 new housing units are needed each year to accommodate projected population growth. It lists 146 homeless families in the county.
Housing plan goals are to increase and preserve the supply of affordable housing in the county, make existing homes and apartments more affordable and livable, advocate for land use policies and regulations that encourage more affordable housing, develop new financing mechanisms, and monitor progress towards achieving these goals through creation of a housing task force.