Study plunges into Basalt’s ‘unaffordable housing’ problem | AspenTimes.com

Study plunges into Basalt’s ‘unaffordable housing’ problem

Basalt needs to build at least 200 new affordable-housing residences to meet demand within the next five years, according to a study commissioned by the town government.

The town has about 1,800 workers commuting into the town, and about 25 percent of them would live there if housing prices were more reasonable, according to the study by Economic and Planning Systems Inc. from Denver. The consulting firm was hired by the town government to update a housing needs analysis from 2008. The firm interviewed workers with the town’s biggest employers to determine how many would like to move to Basalt.

The study found that even though the recession slowed the rapid escalation of house prices, buying power of the average household also has declined. In other words, housing remains as unattainable as ever. The average house price in Basalt is $583,000, according to Economic and Planning Systems.

“To afford the average-priced home in Basalt in 2013, a household would need to have an annual income of approximately $150,000,” the study said. “Considering the larger Roaring Fork Valley, only 14 percent of all households fall into this category, and a combined 30 percent of all households in the valley have incomes higher than $100,000.”

The prospect of the boosting their buying power is bleak for many Basalt workers. The percentage of low-wage jobs in Basalt increased from 31 percent in 2001 to 43 percent in 2013, according to the study. A low-wage job includes many in the service-oriented industries, such as retail, administrative services, arts and entertainment and accommodations. There were 1,100 low-wage jobs in Basalt out of 2,580 total in 2013, the study said.

“Not much surprised us, really, about the affordability conditions,” Economic and Planning Systems Vice President David Schwartz told the Basalt Town Council in a briefing Tuesday night. Housing prices are climbing at a quicker rate than incomes in many areas, especially resorts, he said. And stagnant income has been an issue throughout the country.

Schwartz said his one surprise in the study was the loss of high-paying jobs. He noted that Basalt lost 300 construction jobs between 2001 and 2013. The study showed the valley as a whole lost 1,800 construction jobs (see related story on page A1).

Dan Guimond, principal in the consulting firm, told the council members that denting the affordable-housing shortage requires years of concerted work.

“Everybody kind of forgets about affordable housing when the economy tanks,” Guimond said. Other issues become more pressing when the economy is slow, he said, but governments have trouble addressing needs when the economy strengthens and the real estate market is “super heated.”

Basalt is chipping away to add affordable housing. The town bought two units near downtown earlier this winter and acquired six units in a unique asset and service swap with Rocky Mountain Institute. The town’s biggest developer, Mariner Real Estate Management, is bound by contract to start construction of a 50-unit affordable-housing project in Willits Town Center before it can open a hotel later this year.

Basalt and Pitkin County have discussed teaming with a firm called Real America to build an affordable-housing project along the Highway 82 Basalt Bypass, but it hasn’t progressed beyond talks.

Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said Pitkin County government has identified a handful of sites in and around Basalt where it will consider teaming with partners to build affordable housing.

The five council members attending a work session when the housing study was presented described it as an eye opener.

“This gives a fact-based foundation” that can help the town chart its course, said Councilman Bernie Grauer.

“I would tend to call this the unaffordable-housing study,” Grauer later added.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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