After decades of community conversation about the need for affordable housing, local municipal and county governments finally have the political will to tackle the problem. Interviews with Durango Mayor Kim Baxter, La Plata County Commissioner Marsha Porter-Norton, and Ignacio Mayor Stella Cox. Sponsored by FASTSIGNS of Durango and Durango Party Rental
Affordable housing in Durango and La Plata County is yet another victim of the pandemic, but area government officials hope a newly revived regional housing authority will be the answer to mitigate the housing crisis. You're watching the Local News Network, brought to you by Fast Signs of Durango and Durango Party Rental. I'm Hannah Robertson. Southwest Colorado has suffered from a chronic lack of affordable housing during the past 40 years. Housing has become an acute pain point during the pandemic, and like a patient who seeks help when the pain is unbearable, local governments are finally taking some serious steps to address the problem. Why now? Although housing prices have risen steadily during the past 30 years, a lack of new construction, soaring lumber prices and the flight of urban COVID refugees to rural areas like southwest Colorado have forced housing prices to skyrocket into the stratosphere. According to the Durango Area Association of Realtors, the median price of an in-town Durango home has increased more than 30 percent during the second quarter of 2021, compared with the same pre-COVID quarter in 2019, and the median price for a home in unincorporated La Plata County rose nearly 40 percent during the last two years. Housing affordability and availability are affecting every industry, every segment of society.
I think COVID had a huge impact on the perception of housing unavailability and the cost of housing and had a reality impact on it. So not only did it increase the prices astronomically, but people really, really, really were feeling it. And it wasn't just people that you would consider lower income anymore. It's middle income people. It's even some above middle income who are challenged to find a home. So when you start hearing the businesses talk about it, you start hearing community members talk about it, you start hearing people say, "My husband and I couldn't live in our apartment any longer because we can't afford it. We've had to move in with another couple, so we are sharing an apartment with another couple." And I've heard that numerous times when people say, "Our price is, our rent increase is 50 percent," you know there's a problem.
There's a lot of schoolteachers, I should say, which one of our family members is a schoolteacher, you know, they really struggled.
As the region's housing crisis worsens, the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance has named workforce housing as its top priority.
It is very hard to do economic development, bring businesses in, grow businesses, if people can't find a place to have a house.
Local governments have finally mustered the political will to take an active role in solving the problem. La Plata County, the city of Durango, and the towns of Bayfield and Ignacio recently revived the regional housing authority, last active in 2017, to build housing. An inter-governmental housing authority has broad powers to levy taxes, sell bonds, negotiate public private partnerships, align public and non-profit housing initiatives across jurisdictions and tap into state and federal funding sources that individual organizations may not have the resources or political weight to do on their own.
But it is is only prudent that the four governments in our region that are working on this, keep a tool that is in place, because we need to get more housing built, and we need to make sure that our sheriff's deputies, our police officers, our teachers, our healthcare workers can live here. And that makes a true community. And that's what creates a diverse community. So that is why now.
Government officials said the housing authority will be expected to build houses, not just talk about it. They want to see housing construction start within the year.
This isn't a five-year plan.
To stay on top of the authority's progress, visit any of the town, city or county websites. Thanks for watching this edition of the Local News Network. I'm Hannah Robertson.