Norton’s Notions: “The Housing Argument—and Problem–Continues”

The valley’s census data, comparing 2010 and 2000, points to why we have a housing crunch. We have lost adult population ages 20-49, and dramatically gained population ages 50 and above. That latter category accounts for a net gain of over 1,000 adults in that census period.

Most of these older people, myself included, probably have more resources than we had in our formative working years. More money chasing a relatively static housing market drives housing prices ever higher. The advent of Vacation Rentals By Owners (VRBO’s) throws accelerant gas on the housing fire.

Joel Kotkin studies housing in California and across the country. In a piece
 titled Landless Americans Are the New Serf Class he writes “High rents are leaving many at the brink of poverty. Adjusted for housing costs, California has the largest share of its citizens living in poverty—well above the rate for such historically poor states as Mississippi.”

He continues “Since 2000, the home ownership among those under 45 has plunged 20 percent.” He makes the point that millennials are taking it on the chin in housing in a way we Boomers never did. According to American Community Survey data, the share of the California homeowners over 55 years old has shot up from 41 percent to 55 percent since 2000.

Kotkin explores options to solve the problems that exist not just here but across the country, and concludes that for the moment “The reduction in the prospects in homeownership combined with the rising rent burden is leading us toward an ever more unequal society—one increasingly divided by class, color, and generation.”

Kotkin didn’t write we are headed to “an unequal society,” which we will always have, but a “more unequal society,” which cannot, in the long term, be healthy for our valley or our country.

During our low snow winter, I heard talk on the street that there is really no housing crisis here, and that businesses were well served by employees who had housing. But in last week’s Crested Butte News we can all see over 14 columns of Help Wanted ads, and here it is mid-May, when employers are just gearing up for the summer.

Opponents of the Brush Creek housing, Friends of Brush Creek, win the battle of attendance at public meetings. The proponents of Brush Creek housing win the battle of total numbers of supporters. The difference is probably because supporters do not have the luxury of available time for daytime public meetings and are likely to be less comfortable speaking in front of a hostile audience prone to heckling.

Eyes are on Mt Crested Butte for the deciding vote amongst the owners of the Brush Creek parcel. Mt Crested Butte has signaled that it is willing to discuss a free parcel in Mt Crested Butte. But who is to say there won’t be similar blowback in MCB? And the real answer is probably that this is not an either/or question. We most certainly will need Brush Creek and Mt Crested Butte parcels for additional and needed housing if we are to adequately plan for our future.

As a nation we aren’t successful at solving this big housing problem for a variety of reasons, including the latest HUD proposal to raise the affordable housing bar to 35% of income from 30%. But as a valley, we could take a real step to solving part of the problem here.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out on the Mt Crested Butte Council, once Dave O’Reilly’s successor is appointed. Will we continue to admire and discuss this problem? Or take a step to begin fixing it?

You can always reach me at

via Crested Butte News

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