Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Commissioners adopt housing support study


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

"The shortage of housing affordable for Blaine County's workforce is widely acknowledged. The county commissioners and mayors of all five cities in the county have described the shortage of affordable housing to be the community's biggest problem."

The introduction to Blaine County's new community housing support study doesn't exactly beat around the bush. It's a document that could serve as the basis for policy in Blaine County and its cities as they work toward sustainable communities.

Blaine County Commissioners unanimously adopted the study Tuesday afternoon with the caveat that median income projections may need to be skewed down in order to compensate for the large amount of outside investment income that seeps into the local market.

"It's really a good study," said Commission Chairwoman Sarah Michael. "It quantifies why we are where we are."

As the cost of land in Blaine County continues to climb, the free market won't supply housing to people who make money here, said Commissioner Tom Bowman.

"At what point do we have nobody living here who works here?" he asked.

As part of an enormous project to rewrite significant portions of Blaine County's planning and zoning regulations, commissioners are considering amendments to the subdivision ordinance to require housing from developers who divvy up property for development. Nothing is solid yet, but commissioners have kicked around a figure of 20 percent of all new subdivisions.

The seemingly thorough 15-page study, authored by former Teton County, Wyo. Housing Director Bill Collins, gets to the point quickly.

"Housing opportunities are becoming increasingly less affordable to the work force, resulting in a growing reliance on employees who commute long distances from outside of the county," he wrote. "This trend will eventually undermine the community's ability to sustain its economy."

Collins wrote that, in addition to stressing the local economy, the growing reliance on commuters to fill the community's jobs will also erode the local sense of community.

"Current trends, if allowed to continue, will lead to a diminishing middle class and a declining social diversity that has long characterized Blaine County."

Collins wrote that in a typical community, housing is affordable to the employees who earn their wages and salaries in the community. Appreciation in housing costs generally reflects increases in the ability of local employees to pay more for housing.

"A different condition exists in Blaine County, as the price of housing is generally unaffordable to the local work force and the cost of housing is increasing significantly faster than wages and salaries."

He said in Blaine County, free market housing is considered affordable only for those who make 140 percent or more of the median family income. The median income in 2004 was $71,200.

Collins estimates that by 2020 there will be 29,600 full- and part-time local jobs, and 2,558 affordable housing units will be needed.

Also, in 1994, 222 homes sold at prices below $100,000. In 2004, only 8 homes sold below $100,000, while the number of homes selling at prices over $400,000 went from zero to 281 in the same time period.




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