If we want young adults to flourish in Colorado Springs, and stay here, we must regulate in a manner that allows it. That means rezoning for the future and allowing the market to supply more competitively priced housing.
The need for this could not be more obvious. Rentals in Colorado Springs soared to another record high in the second quarter. It’s the 10th record-setting high over past 14 quarters.
For the average individual or family needing a place to live, this means a rental payment each month of almost $1,900. Consider what this looks like for the entry-level professionals:
• The average salary of a prosecuting attorney in Colorado Springs was $62,265 as of July. That means take-home pay of about $1,880 twice a month — less than half the cost of rent.
• The average pay of a public-school teacher in Colorado Springs was $54,884 as of July. That means take-home pay of about $1,733 twice a month — considerably short of paying the rent with half a month’s income.
• CPAs in Colorado Springs begin at about $70,000. That makes each paycheck just enough to cover rent with less than $200 to spare.
• An entry-level EMT — someone we count on to save lives — earns about $33,000 in Colorado Springs. That means an entire month’s take-home pay leaves about $180 for all other expenses after paying rent.
• Wages have soared in the past two years for non-professional jobs, with some entry-level fast-food work paying $18-$20 an hour. At $42,000 a year, a fast-food worker has about $800 left for food, clothing, gasoline and all other expenses after spending most of two monthly paychecks paying rent.
Our local housing market will price young people out or force them to have multiple roommates — whether they have earned graduate degrees or landed high-wage vocational work.
As they drown in high and rising rents, they have no imminent opportunities to save for down payments on homes, which average nearly a half-million dollars in our city.
Housing prices are a classic case of supply and demand. As a town with multiple military operations, seemingly endless outdoor recreation options, colleges and universities and a bustling nightlife scene, the Springs has become a leading destination for young adults.
The attraction of our city pressures the rental and housing markets. Developers and builders, in pursuit of profits, will happily supply the demand if given a favorable regulatory environment. If supply catches up with or outpaces demand, rents will stabilize or even come down.
If our city government does not pave the way for more apartments and entry-level housing development, the Springs will go the way of Boulder. Communities regulated into economic elitism have almost no diversity — culturally, economically or racially. Teachers, firefighters, service personnel — nearly anyone without deep pockets — lives somewhere else and commutes to work in a town with nowhere for them to live.
The Colorado Springs zoning code, last updated 30 years ago, does not comport with market demands of the 21st century. Much of the zoning discourages development and construction of apartments and small homes needed by young adults and mature adults who no longer have children at home.
That’s why the City Council in October will consider a major upgrade to the zoning code to emphasize smaller lot sizes and more options for apartments and smaller home. The new code would allow more infill housing developments. That would reduce the need for sprawl and increase population density, thus improving the efficiency of mass transit and improve the odds of success for a greater variety of retail, restaurants, and all assortment of entertainment and service businesses.
The plan proposes accommodation of “tiny house” parks, which provide safer and more attractive structures than traditional mobile home parks. The new code might require drought-resistant grass for new homes and limit lawns from comprising more than 25% of the property surrounding a home. While expanding housing stock, Colorado Springs must conserve water.
Nothing about this proposal would impose substantial hardships or character changes on existing neighborhoods. In fact, the proposal provides options for neighborhood associations to craft area-specific restrictions on building heights, materials, architecture and setbacks.
As always with zoning changes, the details are everything, which means the public should pay attention and get involved. Our future requires concern for those who struggle with housing. Properly crafted zoning could open a market that serves nearly everyone.
The Gazette editorial board