Study: Affordable housing situation getting worse in Colorado Springs area

May 28, 2014 Updated: May 29, 2014 at 10:13 am
photo - Aimee Cox, Colorado Springs' senior economic vitality specialist, discusses a new assessment of affordable housing across El Paso County.  Image from a video by Jakob Rodgers.
Aimee Cox, Colorado Springs' senior economic vitality specialist, discusses a new assessment of affordable housing across El Paso County. Image from a video by Jakob Rodgers. 

El Paso County's affordable housing shortage should near 19,900 units by 2019 - a gap most likely to affect the county's poorest residents and middle-class earners, a new housing assessment has found.

A low vacancy rate for both rentals and homes for purchase, poor earnings and a disproportionate number of new high-end units in El Paso County are largely to blame, according to the preliminary results of a report on the region's affordable housing stock, which was commissioned by Colorado Springs and the county.

The results mark an early step in the city's new initiative to end homelessness, a venture that Mayor Steve Bach announced in late January to repurpose at least $5 million - largely in federal grants - toward more emergency shelter beds, a day center, more homeless outreach and increased affordable housing options.

"We're putting this all together to try and create a package of what can the city bring in incentives - what policy issues can we address? What do we need from the private sector?" said Aimee Cox, the city's senior economic vitality specialist. "So we're hoping to use this study as a way to launch that conversation."

A full assessment - including an action plan with recommendations on how to shrink the affordable housing gap - will be given to city and county officials by late June, Cox said.

A meeting will be held sometime in July to allow residents' a chance to comment on the final report, she added.

Preliminary results, however, depict an ever-growing county with a shrinking market of units priced at 30 percent or less of residents' monthly incomes - the definition of "affordable" used by Mullin & Lonergan Associates Inc., the Pittsburgh-based consulting company hired for $69,000 to conduct the assessment.

The number of households in the county is expected to increase 7.98 percent by 2019, but housing units will increase by only 7.42 percent. Driving that growth are people ages 65 and older and - surprisingly - Millennials. The demographic - defined in the report as people ages 18 to 33 - has been a growing concern for the region because of their perceived exodus for higher-paying jobs and more opportunities.

Already, few housing options exist for people earning the least.

Only 41 rental units exist in the "affordable" range for every 100 people making up to roughly $17,250 a year, the consulting firm found, largely using census data. And far fewer units are actually available to people in that income bracket because they're being rented out to higher earners.

The problem is even worse for people making about $46,000 to $67,000. Only 14 affordable units exist for every 100 renters in that demographic.

The county's low vacancy rate may be to blame for the dearth of affordable housing for the middle class by pushing prices higher, said Nick Fedorek, a consultant with Mullin & Longergan.

"It's an issue everywhere," Fedorek said. "But these are very high rates of cost burden... these are some of the highest numbers we've seen - especially for a city this size."

In all, the consulting firm said the county has a shortage of 18,406 affordable housing units, a figure projected to rise to 19,860 by 2019.

The problem compounds when considering that the city's fastest-growing job sectors in 2012 paid lower-then-median earnings, Fedorek said. A lack of two, three and four-unit buildings also likely is a factor.

"It's very easy to make affordable housing that way, but we're seeing a decrease in those types of units," he said.

The outliers: People making roughly $17,250 to $28,750. That group apparently suffers no shortage of existing affordable housing units, with 103 units existing for every 100 renters.

The results were presented at two community meetings Wednesday that, combined, drew nearly 40 people.

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