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Low-income housing still ongoing need in La Plata County
3/25/2013 By: Carole McWilliams
By Carole McWilliams
Times senior staff writer
It’s no secret that local housing costs are high compared to wages.
A new report from the Regional Housing Alliance (RHA) validates that and also provides other local demographic information.
RHA outgoing director Jennifer Lopez gave a brief summary to Bayfield town trustees on March 5.
Thirty-seven percent of households in the county pay too much for housing, she said, meaning more than 30 percent of their income. The housing burden is higher for renters, because they are generally lower income.
“The biggest issue now is qualifying for a mortgage. Now there’s (a requirement for) mortgage insurance that costs $180 to $220 a month if you don’t have 20 percent down,” Lopez said.
“Last year we did a homeless survey. The largest population in the week-long survey was ex-offenders. These aren’t the people we want homeless,” she said.
She predicted the housing market will come back. “We aren’t keeping up with existing demand. We don’t have an adequate supply of homes under $210,000.” And there’s a big need for affordable rentals.
“We need 150 rental units in the next five years and more below market homes,” Lopez said. “We need to renovate sub-standard homes.” She noted that the costs for land and infrastructure are ongoing barriers to affordable housing.
The study was to determine housing needs of low- to moderate-income county residents and lay the groundwork for a five year action plan.
Growth in the number of households in the county (22 percent in the last decade) is the primary driver of housing demand, the report says. It cites a projection that “this demand will drive a need for construction of at least 350 year-round homes and apartments each year, and many more if strong job and population growth resumes.”
But building permit data indicate “that homes were being built at only about half this rate during the past three years.”
In Bayfield between 2000 and 2010, the number of housing units increased by 61 percent, and the number of vacant units increased by 110 percent, mainly between 2006 and 2010, the report says.
But a surplus of homes is turning or already has turned into a shortage, especially lower price homes, the report says, while rents have increased steadily since early in the recession.
The report continues, “it should be noted that construction of second homes and vacation homes has historically tended to drive up the prices of land and construction for most types of housing in and around Durango and the northern part of the county… Prior to the housing recession that began in 2007, this was a major factor that negatively affected housing affordability.”
The report lists a key finding that “while many parcels of land are approved for housing development, many are not economically feasible to develop due to the asking prices of land and the costs of off-site and on-site infrastructure.”
Solutions to that are for local governments to extend infrastructure, to allow high density infill development where infrastructure already exists, or to continue financial support for affordable housing projects. Low cost home financing, weatherization grants to existing homeowners, and subsidies to low income renters are other options.
The demographic part of the report, mainly based on the 2010 Census, says county median household income in 2010 was $56,422.
The report says that, “As defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), 45 percent of La Plata households are considered ‘low income’ - meaning that they have incomes at or below 80 percent of the area median income as calculated by HUD.”
Twelve percent of county households qualify as extremely low income, defined by HUD as 30 percent or less of area median income, locally equating to incomes of $20,000 or less.
A graph of income distribution in 2010 shows Ignacio with the highest percentage (24) of households in that category, double the percentage in Bayfield, Durango, or the unincorporated county.
Ignacio had the lowest percentage of households making $20,000 to $34,999 and incomes of $75,000 or more.
But Ignacio has the highest percentage of households in the $35,000 to $74,999 range. Bayfield had the second highest percentage in that range.
Bayfield (33 percent) and the rural county (35 percent) have the highest share of households in the $75,000 or more income range, according to the graph.
A majority of renters county-wide with household incomes under $35,000 are paying more than 30 percent of income for rent, along with homeowners with incomes under $50,000.
“This specific population makes up only 35 percent of all households but 62 percent of households paying over 30 percent of income for housing,” the report says.
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