Chaffee County landlords weigh in on affordable housing
They say there’s two sides to every story – and Chaffee County’s affordable housing issue is no exception. Speaking with a cross section of local landlords and property managers offers an even broader perspective on the big picture of the county’s rentals, both long- and short-term.
Although new on the Salida property management scene, Salidan Paige Judd is not new to the housing market. She and her husband, Joe, have operated Judd Fine Homes, a design and construction builder, in Salida since 2001. Earlier this year, they opened the BlueJay Apartments at 505 Illinois Ave., offering 19 one- and two-bedroom apartments for $900 to $1,100 monthly, rates appropriate for individuals earning 75 percent of the area median income (between $35,000-$45,000 annually). All in all, they’ve added 38 apartments to the Salida rental market since 2017.
Judd says the biggest challenges they have faced at the BlueJay are noise complaints about disruptive tenants and they’ve not had a vacancy since they opened in May. “I think Salida could easily support 100 more rentals at the 80-percent AMI range.”
Regarding affordable housing, Judd sees the problem as a lack of large multifamily rentals. “Virtually none of these have been built in Salida in 30 years, so a lack of inventory drives up prices. Single family homes that used to rent for $500 are now renting for $1,500 due to supply and demand,” she said. Judd also noted that landlords are increasing rent annually, even as mortgages stay the same, and second-home buyers are taking prospective long-term rentals off the market.
“Chaffee County has been discovered, and more and more out of town people are buying homes here. Wages have not gone up with the price of housing, but this is happening across the country,” Judd said.
She supports the city of Salida’s decision to cap the number of short-term rentals and hopes the decision spreads county-wide. Judd referenced Crested Butte’s somewhat recent Ballot Initiative 2A that instituted a 5 percent excise tax on all short-term rentals beginning Jan. 1, 2018 – a tax that is allocated specifically for an affordable housing fund in the town, and one that may not be used for general town operations.
“There are a lot of great [Salida] landlords who have not increased their rents. … We are very fortunate that these people continue to keep their rents low and help keep the diversity in town,” Judd said.
The BlueJay allows one dog per apartment and the Judds turn away renters with multiple pets. “Even if we think they’d be good renters. It’s a difficult balance; if we didn’t have a limit, we could end up with 40 dogs on a small property. … We check pet references when we check human references.”
Judd says the best advice she could offer to someone looking for a rental in Chaffee County is, first, to quit smoking and, second, to “not adopt an army of pets. Also, check out your credit score and take care of what you can. I’ve had several applicants with several small items in collections that really bring down their credit score. … It’s not always a deal breaker … but is a definite red flag that they may not be able to pay their monthly rent and utility bills.”
The Judds don’t have an issue renting to single parents or families but added that the size of their apartments may not allow enough space for families. “We’ve seen a huge variety of applicants in age, income range and profession. There is a need for housing across every spectrum – retirees, young professionals, retail workers, disabled people. We have renters with good incomes who cannot afford to buy here and are really happy to find a place to rent.”
She said several renters have come to the BlueJay because their long-term rental was recently sold or turned into a short-term rental. “We even have renters who commute to work in Buena Vista. The whole county is really one big rental market, and adding rentals in the south end helps fill jobs in the north end, and vice versa.”
They’ve also seen renters move out of single family homes due to “astronomical” utility bills. “It would be great if landlords would invest in home improvements that would reduce their tenants’ utility bills. These investments would also increase property values for the owner,” Judd said.
One of the larger affordable housing issues has to do with city and county codes, Judd said. “I think that all the municipalities can choose to change some codes to make it more interesting for builders and developers to build multifamily rentals instead of ‘for sale’ homes. Right now the easy money is in building $500k spec homes, which continue to sell at a brisk pace. … We need our elected officials to encourage private developers to build rental housing.”
Landlord Marny Danneberg is building a tiny home park on CR 146 for full-time residents. Danneberg also has several full-time, long-term rentals, and her own home is listed as a short-term rental. Her long-term rental rates range between $850 to $1,500 monthly.
“The biggest challenge is finding tenants that will take care of my property. If I keep my rents reasonable then I seem to attract tenants that don’t value the property; if I charge more, I seem to get tenants that do. It’s trying to find the balance that’s hard,” said Danneberg. Her own home has almost doubled in value since she purchased it in 2013. “I don’t think wages were high enough to be able to afford property five years ago, but now there’s no chance.”
On the subject of pets, Danneberg said all tenants say their pets are good pets. “What’s hard is to determine whether the owners are good owners of these pets. Will they clean up after them? Will they care for the landscaping? At one of my properties I will never rent to anyone with pets again. I can’t cover the value of losing landscaping with a damage deposit.”
Her advice to prospective renters? “Be very patient, especially if you have pets. In a market this tight, it might be better to not have pets if you don’t already.”
A single mother at one time herself, Danneberg has no problem renting her homes to single parents or families. “I think these are the people having the hardest time finding affordable housing here.” As a landlord, she’s seen people willing to rent a home for even six months at a time – knowing full well they’ll have to move again before too long – because there’s nothing else available. “I think this is a struggle you see in all tourist towns.”
Danneberg summed up the trials of being a landlord like this, “Sometimes I think tenants forget that landlords are trying to make a living too. It took me years of very hard work to be able to afford the homes I rent. I like to find tenants that respect that, but it’s a hard thing to determine in a short interview. Even some I feel the best about have disappointed me.”
This is part five in a series of articles on affordable housing in Chaffee County. Landlords and property managers continue to speak out in next week’s story. If you see an issue that you think needs to be addressed on the topic, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previous articles in this series:
A Place to Call Home, Part 4: Fear and frustration drive those needing affordable housing
A Place to Call Home, Part 3: Habitat for Humanity can’t afford to build a home in Chaffee County
A Place to Call Home, Part 2: Being homeless brings daily challenges
A Place to Call Home, Part 1: Teacher struggles to find legal, affordable housing