A hidden factor in our workforce housing crisis is our complete lack of affordable “starter” homes.
As a youngster in the early 1950s, I recall a few of my schoolmates living in covered basements that eventually developed into starter homes as their families added the floors, walls, and roofs as they could afford them.
While the above starter homes wouldn’t pass the planning stage nowadays, we also didn’t have hundreds of workforce people living in tents or out of their cars as we do now.
During the early 1950s, huge tracts of look-alike starter homes were built to accommodate our rapid urban population growth. Nowadays, the concept of a no-frills starter home appears to be lost in today’s high-rolling real estate market.
To illustrate that point, a copyrighted article written by Emily Badger for the New York Times and republished in the September 25, 2022 edition of the Denver Post explores the disappearance of the classic starter home.
To summarize the article, the rising price of undeveloped real estate is the primary driver in the decline of starter home construction. Soaring costs of building materials and government fees have likewise driven the prices of new homes to record highs.
In addition, some homeowners’ associations and government building codes require larger floor spaces than the 1,400 square feet typically found in starter homes. According to the article, starter homes are now only eight percent of new home construction.
This “gentrification” of the real estate market has driven threshold prices of new and existing homes well over $500,000, which is obviously beyond the reach of most workforce families, let alone young couples looking to own their first homes.
In my opinion, accepting this lack of ownership opportunity as normal is to bow to the big money flooding our state and local real estate markets. The very fact that workforce families have been priced out of the housing market is, in my opinion, an issue worthy of a Congressional investigation.
Forthcoming solutions include Colorado’s Proposition 123, which seeks to “set aside a portion of state income tax revenue for affordable housing programs.” Our Board of County Commissioners have also considered a new mill levy to build workforce housing.
Both plans are Band-Aid solutions for what is essentially the festering sore of economic inequality. For that reason alone, I believe that something is seriously wrong with a “booming” economy that has essentially done away with affordable starter homes for workforce families.
All we’re doing with taxpayer-financed workforce housing is turning Chaffee County into another Breckenridge or another Eagle/Vail Valley, where service workers face bleak apartment house futures and skilled workers have little hope of ever owning their homes.
Gary E. Goms
Buena Vista, CO