City, local employers discuss options to solve housing crisis
It’s going to take a full-community effort to solve Craig’s ongoing housing shortage.
But some of the most motivated entities — the town’s employers — are at the table with the city to discuss how to fix the issue.
Thursday afternoon, representatives from a number of the city’s larger and smaller employers joined with city staff and a consultant group contracted by the city to discuss the depth of the housing need and some of the roads out of that hole.
The problem, especially for the largest employers like the hospital and school district, is pretty simple to explain.
“We have offered candidates jobs, and they’ve turned them down,” said Derrick Webb, director of human resources for Memorial Regional Hospital. “They can’t find a place to live.”
Echoing that desperate sentiment was Moffat County School District superintendent Scott Pankow.
“We should employ more than 300 people,” Pankow said. “But we cannot fill all the positions. We’ve lost people due to housing. We need help.”
Shannon Scott, the city’s manager of economic development, helped facilitate the discussion, which was largely led by a presentation from Williford, LLC, a land use and affordable housing consulting group led by Willa Williford, who ran the presentation.
Williford and her team completed a housing needs assessment late last year for the city — they’re also working with nearby municipalities including Hayden and Steamboat Springs on similar, if distinct, issues, not to mention towns and cities across the Mountain West. In Craig’s assessment, they identified that roughly 75 units, including rental and for-sale, were needed to achieve a healthy market in the city.
“Of that, the city has a target to develop 90% of the identified need by 2027,” Williford said. “That’s an aggressive approach, but it entails 32 to 45 for-sale units and 23 to 36 rentals. We’d call hitting those numbers a home run.”
The consultants heard concerns, however, from attendees who felt that those numbers couldn’t possibly be high enough.
“That number seems low to me,” said Tom Kleinschnitz, director of Moffat County Tourism. “We have 2,000 people going to Routt County to work, and that’ll be 3,000 soon. Forty-five (for-sale units) doesn’t seem close.”
Additionally, the timeline felt too conservative to some of the employers present.
“I need something in two months,” Pankow said. “Not five years.”
The trouble, though, is in actually making it happen, Williford explained. The city has averaged five building permits per year for a number of years. To hit 75 new units in five years would blow that out of the water. It requires significant investment from numerous parties.
The issue is a kind of reverse supply and demand dynamic. Essentially, while there is undeniably a demand in Craig for housing, a developer who might consider investing in the area would find that the demand in question is for housing that can be sold or rented at a drastically lower rate than the same cost-to-build housing built just to the east in Steamboat Springs or even Hayden.
“The houses have to be cheap,” said Randy Looper, who serves on the Local Marketing District and was for years a hotel owner in Craig. “If you can’t do it at the price point, it’s not worth it.”
So, since the cost-benefit for a developer doesn’t match up, concessions of some kind will need to be made in order to make it worth it for a developer to build here.
But employers sounded open to making something work.
“I wouldn’t say anything’s off the table,” Webb said. “It’s a big issue. If there’s an idea, we’ll give it a shot.”
The answer is going to have to be multifaceted. For example, the old MRH building on Russell Street, bulldozed to the ground last year, is an attractive location on which to build potential housing. The question there is how to make it work. Webb noted that a proposal from MRH had been untenable based on various zoning requirements, largely surrounding parking, but that the hospital was working on another concept to bring to the table.
Meanwhile, the city has the option — there and elsewhere — to facilitate the process through changes in zoning or other regulations.
There are other plots of land, including one owned by the city near Woodberry Park, on which housing could be built. There are other locations on the edges of town. In cases like those, infrastructure access — normally a cost incurred by the developer — is a major holdup. The city is considering using money granted it from various sources including the American Rescue Plan Act to bring sewer and water lines to the sites.
Another tool Williford discussed is the concept of master leasing.
“Say you have a 20-unit apartment building coming into town, an employer decided they’ll take 10 units and pay the rent on those regardless of their occupancy and manage bringing people in and out,” Williford explained.
In that situation, the employer would charge employees rent, but the developer would have a guaranteed income stream built into the development upon which they can rely, eliminating a portion of the risk of building.
“Developers are there and ready,” Scott said. “It’s a question of, how do we get over the hump? Each situation is different, but that’s the challenge for the city.”
The next workshop for the city involving the housing problem is March 14 at 9 a.m., a virtual meeting in which an architect will discuss options, including unit density, for some of the available land on which housing might be built.
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