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Numbers suggest the affordability gap will only get worse

Bleak outlook



According to the latest city/county Housing Needs Assessment, the difference between the number of households and units priced affordably for their income levels amounts to an estimated 24,513-unit shortfall in El Paso County. The report, published in 2014, also noted that population is projected to increase 7.98 percent by 2019 while the number of housing units will increase 7.24 percent.

What'll that do to the affordability gap? It's not exactly rocket science. "Given the market tendency to produce higher-end housing rather than affordable housing, the gap is expected to grow over the next five years," the report concludes.

It's important to note that "affordable" is defined in this context by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as costing at or under 30 percent of the household's gross monthly income. So, for example, a household making the city's median income ($54,351) that spends less than $1,359 on housing each month is living in "affordable" housing. By that measure, 82,708 households, or nearly half of renters and a third of homeowners in El Paso County, are "cost-burdened." Most are seniors and young people, geographically clustered in southern and southeastern Colorado Springs.

The Needs Assessment outlines a local economy recovering more slowly than the rest of the state and country. Wages have held stagnant; unemployment is high; and the fastest-growing sectors tend to add lower-paying jobs.

Federal programs that subsidize housing or offer rental assistance have undergone budget cuts, directly felt in the Section 8 program that is administered at the local level. As the Indy has reported, the Colorado Springs Housing Authority gives out almost 2,300 vouchers. The program's wait list is 2,000-plus and closed to additions. Even with a voucher, search times to find housing average 90 to 120 days, the Housing Needs Assessment found, because of low vacancy rates and disincentive for landlords to participate.

Though local government wants the affordable housing stock to grow, Community Development Manager Aimee Cox points out, "The city of Colorado Springs is not a housing developer ... but we are trying to provide the tools so that the private sector can step up to fill the [affordable housing] gap."

Top priority, from her perspective, is increasing the inventory of units affordably priced for households making 30 percent or less of area median income, "but it's hard to [develop] a lot of 30 percenters without vouchers and significant subsidy," she said. "It's very complex to negotiate these developments and if it doesn't work, it doesn't work."

There are around 350 new units in early concept stages that Cox called "very promising," but by her own admission "even if they all come to fruition we still have that 24,000 disparity. It's very hard for the public to believe you're being successful with those kind of numbers."

Other cities have implemented public policy strategies to require or at least incentivize dense, transit-supported affordable housing development. But not Colorado Springs.

"There just aren't any proposals," Cox said.

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