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Eagle County plans affordable housing project

ALISON MILLER
eagle county correspondent

EAGLE COUNTY ” There is only one thing missing from Dagmar Huber’s American Dream ” a home.

After living and working in the Vail Valley for more than 20 years, Huber and her husband, Ken, still do not own a home, and doubt they can afford to be one anytime in the near future, she said.

“We love our life here, and it would be very hard to leave everything behind just to own a home,” Huber said. “We just keep hoping the housing prices will balance out and average, hard-working locals will be able to buy some reasonable homes in this town.”

Record high housing prices and fewer and fewer options for affordable housing for the working class have county housing department officials on a mission to find a solution to fix what seems like an insurmountable problem.

In an effort to put a dent in the growing need for affordable housing, the county’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Affordable Housing is developing a plan to build another Miller Ranch-type of housing area and entice developers to include more affordable housing in their buildings.

The county has set a goal to purchase 30 acres of land by December, either together or in separate parcels, to build deed restricted homes on, said K.T. Gazunis, the county’s housing director. The county is eyeing three properties in particular.

“We are drawing the line in the sand,” Gazunis said. “We don’t want the housing problem to get worse, and we want an overwhelming majority of the workforce to live in our county instead of commuting.”

Just a year-and-a-half ago, the median price tag for a single family home ” defined as a detached home, condo or townhome ” in Eagle County was around $399,000, but now prospective home buyers must shell out $549,000 for the same housing, Gazunis said.

“It’s to a point where our workforce can’t afford to buy homes,” Gazunis said. “Doctors, lawyers, or really anyone who works here has trouble buying a place to live.”

Huber can identify with the dilemma of working hard and still being unable to buy property. Huber works as a caretaker, a massage therapist and a personal shopper.

Ken is a builder, and Huber said they make good wages, yet they are still searching for an affordable home.

The housing department will also be meeting with developers over the next two weeks to discuss ways to increase the amount of low-cost units they build before taking their final recommendations to the commissioners at the beginning of May, Gazunis said. The county wants to build in an area similar to Miller Ranch, she said.

Unlike Miller Ranch, however, the county hopes to include rental units in the proposed new affordable housing community, Gazunis said.

Unless something changes the housing market drastically, workers will soon find it almost impossible to qualify for a mortgage with “starter home” prices so inflated, said Bill Young, a local real estate agent.

“It’s just so hard to believe that entry-level housing is $300,000 to $400,000,” Young said. “Most people get a bit of sticker shock when they begin looking for a home, and they often have to settle for a lot less than they would prefer.”

One way for buyers to get into the housing market is to use “creative financing” ” interest-only loans or a 100-percent financing ” instead of more traditional loans, Young said.

The definition of moderate income for a family of three in Eagle County is $73,000. Such a family would qualify for $20,000 through the county’s down-payment-assistance program, Gazunis said. A household with a $73,000 yearly income that is approved for a 30-year loan at 6 percent interest would be able to afford a home for $183,494, she said.

“There’s not a lot of housing in Eagle County for that, if any,” Gazunis said. “At that income, you would have more than enough to rent a three-bedroom house, if one was available, but those are difficult to find, too.”

Many who are eager to buy a home and have been able to come up with enough money for a down payment have turned to adjustable-rate or interest-only loans to lower their payments to an affordable amount, Gazunis said.

It’s a risky move in most housing markets, but more often than not it works out for buyers in Vail Valley, Gazunis said.

“Because of the rate of appreciation, most people who get into trouble with their mortgage are able to either sell or refinance their way out of it before foreclosure,” Gazunis said.


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