A Different Kind of Housing Crisis

Originally published on May 30, 2018 by The Montrose Daily Press

Have you rented an apartment in Montrose recently? Have you had an experience with the housing market? It seems finding a place to live in Montrose has become less about choice and more about availability.

Both the Government Affairs Council at the Chamber of Commerce and the City of Montrose have been looking into local housing issues. Through roundtable discussions with local experts in real estate, mortgage lending, building and human resources we’ve discovered quite a bit about what’s happening in the market.

These conversations identified the following issues: 

1. There is an inventory shortage for single family homes in the $250k and under price range.

2. There is a rental shortage.

3. There are plenty of lots to build on, but building costs in Montrose are astronomical thus driving sale prices even higher and perpetuating the issue.

We are growing as a community. More people are moving here every day. We see a lot of retired individuals coming to Montrose, but we are also seeing younger families or unmarried young professionals moving here. The latter group often lack the means of purchasing a home that costs over $250k. Without housing inventory in the lower price range and rental inventory being scare, the issue could easily keep talented professionals from moving here.

Examining this further, the housing shortage is stifling economic growth. We want to attract new businesses. These businesses want talented workers. Studies show that “affordable” housing lands somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of household income. If these businesses are paying their workers even the median Montrose County income of approximately $40k, then the workers will need housing that costs $1,000-$1,300 a month including utilities.

Economics say demand is up, but supply is low therefore prices are high. Theoretically it should be a good time to be a builder or developer. That may be true, but why would a builder or developer be motivated to build homes or rentals in the lower price range when they can build them in a higher price range and still sell them?

Our research says the cost of building materials and the price of hiring subcontractors is also contributing to the lack of new housing that is attainable for the average working family. Local subcontractors often cannot turn down wages they are able to make in Telluride, therefore unless Montrose wants to pay competitive wages, we face an availability shortage of these individuals.

City council has spent a lot of time discussing the housing issue in Montrose. In February, they voted to support a “Workforce Housing Incentives Program.” The program is designed to build density within city limits with special focus on the downtown core. This idea:

• Prevents “urban sprawl.”

• Provides built in customer base for downtown businesses as residents are within walking distance of downtown amenities.

• Promotes a healthy community through increased walkability and bikeability; reduced traffic and parking issues.

• Increases efficiency of public services and infrastructure.

• Promotes preservation of historic downtown buildings.

• Increases efficiency of building use on Main Street; promotes mixed use of retail, service and residential.

The Workforce Housing Program also aims to create housing opportunities for citizens defined as “below $250,000 purchase price or 33 percent of median county household income per month in rent,” thus:

• Aids builders and developers in keeping pricing “attainable” so citizens making a “working” wage can afford housing.

• Makes Montrose a more attractive community to talented professionals as housing is an issue statewide. If our community showcases a workforce housing program and has quality housing available to these professionals, they are more likely to choose our community over another. With unemployment at 2-3 percent statewide, we have to be competitive in every way we can.

Colorado is a beautiful place to live. Those of us who have discovered Western Colorado are afforded the beautiful views, access to recreation, and clean air without the hustle and bustle of the big city. As more people discover what we already know to be true, our housing crisis will worsen in severity. Approaching this growth in an intelligent way is key to a more sustainable Montrose.

Chelsea Rosty is the executive director of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce and director of Business Innovation for the City of Montrose. Contact her at chelsea@montrosechamber.com.