Community concern

Group seeks collaboration to solve housing needs

Finding suitable, affordable residences in Moffat County for low-income residents is difficult, said Evelyn Tileston, director of the Independent Life Center. In fact, she said, finding adequate housing for any demographic is hard.

"It's very difficult for a low-income person to even find an apartment here," Tileston said. "Frankly, I think for everybody the availability isn't very good, and for low-income people in particular, it's really hard."

So tough that a local contingent of area leaders requested additional help.

On Wednesday, Tileston, Habitat for Humanity president Marilyn Bouldin, EA Black of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority and PJ Howe from Colorado Rural Development, spoke with the Moffat County Housing Authority -- an appointed panel that concentrates on housing needs for senior citizens only -- about addressing the housing needs for all demographics.

The federal government defines affordable housing as rent or mortgage payments no more than 30 percent of the household income.

Housing authority executive director Keith Antonson said the board made no comments on the presentation and he was unsure whether the board would consider changing its mission statement in the future.

Tileston, whose Independent Life Center helps pair low-income residents with affordable homes, said her organization distributes housing vouchers, or monetary allocations, to 71 residents or families in Moffat County and another 10 in Rio Blanco County.

The group has a waiting list of 25 additional families or residents trying to acquire vouchers.

Bouldin said she became aware of the affordable housing problem when filling out housing needs assessment forms while applying for Habitat for Humanity affiliate status. She said "bringing together multiple agencies to talk about a community concern" was the intention behind the Wednesday presentation.

That community concern was big enough for the issue to be addressed in the 2005-06 Community Indicators Report. The report, coordinated by the nonprofit Yampa Valley Partners group, compared industry growth, average wages, housing prices and statistics.

There is a growing gap between wages and housing costs, according to the report.

It found that 25 percent of Moffat County residents who rent, and about 17 percent of homeowners, pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing. The disparity is even greater in Routt County, where 36 percent of renters and 31 percent of homeowners pay more for housing than 30 percent of their income.

"We're also seeing more people commuting to places like Steamboat Springs for work from outlying communities where housing prices are less," said Audrey Danner, Yampa Valley Partners executive director. "When you earn between $25,000 and $30,000 a year as many Yampa Valley workers do, you simply can't afford a $250,000 home -- often deemed an affordable price -- much less the cost of an average single-family home in Routt County of $450,000 or more."

Danner said the service industry represents a large number of area jobs, and generally wages pay between $9 and $15 an hour. Those wages can't keep pace with rising, across-the-board home prices in Craig and Steamboat Springs.

The affordability of housing in the Yampa Valley is linked to the amount of land available for development, land preservation efforts, lot size requirements in rural areas, land use changes and ability of area workers to afford housing and land, according to the Community Indicators Report.

Danner said the need for affordable and workforce housing will become a more pressing issue as energy exploration and development in Moffat County expands.

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