EDITORIAL: The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, Part Three

Read Part One

In today’s Daily Post (July 17, 2017) we are sharing the latest real estate update from well-known local realtor Lee Riley. I’ve known Mr. Riley since 1993, when he helped negotiate the sale of the first home Clarissa and I bought in the heart of downtown Pagosa. We bought that Lewis Street house for $52,000 in 1993, at a point in our lives when Clarissa and I had lived in Pagosa less than 6 months and neither of us had a steady job, nor even the prospect of a steady job.

We sold the house four years later for $93,000. We had made some significant upgrades to the property, but clearly the real estate market had also “improved” during those four years.

I put the word “improved” in quotes, because one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor. These things are relative, as we will be discussing.

Lee Riley often includes, in his Daily Post columns, a link to his “stats page”… and today’s column includes such a link.

The stats tell an interesting story, depending on how you analyze them. You could, for example, focus on the total sales of single family homes, and see that, back in 2014, the Pagosa real estate industry (as measured by the MLS, the multiple listing service) had sold about 124 homes between January and July… and in 2017, the sales during those same months totaled 178.  An increase of nearly 30 percent.

Taking a simplistic view of “improvement,” we might say the real estate market has “improved.”

There are other ways to analyze the numbers, however.

Detail of real estate statistics provided on isellpagosa.com

Between January and July of 2014, Pagosa realtors had sold 55 homes priced under $200,000. These were basic homes that average working class people could afford, given the wages typically paid in Archuleta County. In other words, 44 percent of the homes sold in 2014 could have been afforded by an average working class family.

But during the first half of 2017, local realtors sold only 30 homes in the “under $200,000” price range — less than 19 percent of the total sold so far this year.

Between January and July 2014, Pagosa realtors had sold 33 homes priced above $300,000. That comprised fewer than a quarter of the homes sold.

But during the first half of 2017, realtors sold 93 homes priced above $300,000. Seven of those homes were priced above $1 million. That means more than half of the homes sold during the first half of 2017 were unaffordable for even a well-paid local worker.

According to City-Data.com, the median house or condo value in Pagosa Springs — in the year 2000 — was $96,300. Seventeen years later in 2017, according to Lee Riley’s stats, the median closing price for a house here was $313,000.

Where to live, when there’s no place to live?

According to a recent Denver Post article about a report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Colorado’s population of homeless veterans increased by 24 percent between 2015 and 2016, and now totals about 1,180 homeless vets — nearly as high a number as reported for the state of New York (1,248).

Colorado’s overall homelessness (the official HUD count) grew to about 10,600 people in 2016, as veterans and others continue to move into the state hoping to take advantage of a relatively prosperous economy… and a growing marijuana industry.  But many are unable to find affordable housing.

The 2016 Denver Post article by reporter Kirk Mitchell quotes a 34-year-old vet named Jesse Bowman, who caught a Greyhound bus to Denver after failing to find work in his home state of Montana.

“I knew there would be a job in Denver,” Bowman said. He got a job at Dish Network for $12.50 an hour.

“Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to pay for a studio apartment, let alone a one-bedroom,” he said. “The cost of housing is ridiculous. It’s really a shame.”

Here in Pagosa Springs, we don’t yet know exactly how serious the housing crisis might be. The Town and County governments collaborated last fall to pay for a $35,000 “housing needs assessment” from Denver-based Economic and Planning Systems (EPS) but the company has yet to deliver the report.  (Town documents from December 2016 suggested an estimated delivery of April 2017.)  Typically, a housing needs assessment is a necessary document, to support government grant applications for affordable housing subsidies, and for state and federal financial support.

The problem in Denver — hourly wages that do not match up with current rental costs — looks to be the same problem we are having here in Archuleta County, and all across America.

Last week, I published a photo of “Now Hiring Caregivers” lettering installed on the windows of the colorful vehicles used by our local “Visiting Angels” home care providers. I stated, then, my assumption that the trained professionals hired by Visiting Angels probably earn more than the average hourly wage paid by our local hospitality industry.

I may have been wrong in making that assumption.

Care of the elderly is likely to be a growth industry in Archuleta County — in light of the real estate sales analyzed at the beginning of this article. The folks moving into Archuleta County, and driving up the median home prices, are presumably not young people. Presumably, they are older, wealthier folks, who will, in coming years, create a demand for additional home care services.

Are they driving up the wages earned by working class families?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a waitress in southwest Colorado earns about $10 per hour, a restaurant cook about $12 per hour, housekeepers about $12 per hour, retail cashiers about $11 per hour.

“Personal Care Aides: $11.37 per hour.”

A Daily Post reader who said she was familiar with Visiting Angels’ salary schedule claimed that $11.37 might be on the high side, even for a caregiver with past experience in nursing.

That’s $23,000 per year. A worker earning $23,000 per year can afford a rental costing about $572 a month, according CHFA — the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority.

Or, CHFA says, they might be able to afford a mortgage on an $80,000 home.  Two workers, presumably married and living together and each earning a typical Pagosa Springs wage, can afford a home priced at about $150,000.

The stats shared by Lee Riley on his website show a current total of 8 homes available in Archuleta County, priced below $150,000…

… and 129 homes priced above $500,000.

Read Part Four…

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Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.