Hundreds knocking on doors with no place to go
~ by Rick Langenberg ~
The housing marching orders have arrived for residents, employers/employees, leaders and developers of the Cripple Creek/Victor district.
And now, the real work begins in the form of partnerships, incentives, special districts, deals and pounding nails. “It’s not going to be easy,” said Bill Gray, the community development director of the city of Cripple Creek. “How do we make it real? We have been waiting for the completion of this study.”
“We have to make it affordable for the people who live here,” said resident Les Batson.
“We have to look at it like a three-legged stool,” commented resident Rebecca Pruitt, in describing the need also for more economic development and social services.
“We have had people knocking on the door. We are taking this very seriously,” said Cripple Creek City Administrator Mark Campbell.
This was just a snapshot of the comments from a housing forum, hosted last week by Bronco Billy’s casino. The gathering capped the completion of a $70,000 housing needs study orchestated by outside consultants, funded by the cities of Cripple Creek and Victor and the state Department of Local Affairs, that reached a conclusion many expected: The region has a critical shortage of housing units, with job growth far surpassing available units to rent or own. In fact, in the last nine years, the district has generated 1,000 new jobs and has only netted 16 new homes constructed during the same period. That translates to a crisis scenario. In other words, hundreds are knocking on doors with no place to go.
As a result, workers are forced to commute to fairly low-paying jobs from outside the area. And unless action is taken, workers may be forced to sleep in their cars or reside in tents, or bypass the district entirely when it comes to employment.
This situation will only get worse with Cripple Creek bracing itself for the development of several signature lodging projects, encompassing 500-plus more rooms.
Not surprisingly, the long-awaited study prompted a slew of comments from elected leaders, residents, employers and developers, with no real set game plan. Those details will be unveiled in the next few months, with officials acknowledging that the lack of affordable housing units ranks as one of the major issues confronting the district.
“Infrastructure really jumped out,” said consultant Wendy Sullivan, of WSW Consulting. In questionnaires and interviews, the lack of central services in certain development sections, coupled with dilapidated, run down structures, amounted to the big challenges for the area in solving their housing woes.
“The district is very unique,” said Sullivan, following last week’s forum. On the upside, she said housing prices are lower than those for units outside the area. In lieu of these statistics, the housing demand wouldn’t be that strong, noted the consultant. But on the downside, the available units are in such bad condition that potential home owners and renters face surmountable costs, creating a serious housing shortage.
Sullivan compares the district’s woes to other communities she had advised in the South Tahoe gaming area.
For example, the study indicated that 63 percent of homes in the district were built before 1970. In addition, 34 percent of current rental units were rated as in poor condition.
Plus, the salaries and incomes of those wanting to rent or own homes are well below the average level. This prompts the need for subsidies to construct units that meet market demands. This is one of the biggest hurdles facing developers.
The consultants, though, praised the efforts of major employers, such as Triple Crown Casinos, in trying to address the crisis by developing employee housing facilities.
Another asset benefitting the area is a desire for people to live in the area. Most respondents expressed a strong interest to live locally.
The main shortcomings cited dealt with the lack of housing, limited job diversity, the need for a better grocery and pharmacy outlet, parks and recreation growth, the problems of the RE-1 School District and the needed rehabilitation of downtown buildings.
What Does This Mean?
With the release of the study findings, will the results sit on the shelf like previous studies? Or will leaders move forward with tangible actions? Or, can they do anything period to alter current perceptions?
These questions will be answered shortly. Campbell said the study findings will be addressed by the city council.
Gray cited the need to form partnerships and even special development districts as the partial solution. He also said the city is getting much more aggressive identifying potential properties that could make good candidates for housing developments. They are even approaching the property owners to see if they want to become part of these potential developments.
Victor, meanwhile, has even taken the lead role in owning many prime lots for potential housing development opportunities.
Sullivan cited better infrastructure as the first real hump the district must overcome.
But even here, some debate persisted. Cripple Creek Mayor Bruce Brown noted that the district’s water and sewer tap fees are among the lowest in the state.
Sullivan said she hopes district leaders move forward. This is the second study in the area she has helped orchestrate in the Teller County area. A previous county-wide housing study, done about 15 years ago, released a laundry list of recommendations.
But it never went anywhere. Sullivan admitted she was disappointed, and was hesitant about pursuing the latest study if no action was taken.
But officials and leaders of the Cripple Creek/Victor district say they mean business this time.