Study looks at affordable housing

Low rents in Mesa and Garfield counties have helped keep the heart of the Western Slope from dire shortages in affordable housing, according to a study released Thursday.

But that doesn’t mean the area has enough affordable housing for everyone.

According to the Housing Mismatch and Rent Burden study from the Colorado Division of Housing, there’s one affordable rental unit for every 1.7 households earning less than $10,000 in Mesa and Garfield counties. Affordable housing is defined as housing that costs 30 percent or less of household income. For a family earning less than $10,000, for example, affordable rent is $250 a month.

At the state level, there are 1.9 households earning less than $10,000 a year for every one affordable housing unit.

Colorado Division of Housing spokesman Ryan McMaken said the ratio looks better in Mesa and Garfield counties because rents are generally lower in those counties than on the Front Range. The data also looks optimistic because it uses mid-2008 numbers, he said, and people often just pay a larger percentage of their income rather than move when times get tough.

Using the 2008 numbers, McMaken found nearly 20 percent of Mesa County households pay 50 percent or more of their income on rent. Forty percent of Mesa County renters use 30 percent or more of their income to pay rent.

“Most of the families listed in the survey are not homeless, they’re just paying more of their income toward rent” than what’s considered affordable, McMaken said.

The Grand Junction Housing Authority’s waiting list for affordable housing vouchers moved 200 names off its list thanks to Housing and Urban Development funding last month. The list is still more than 2,300 names long.

Gordon E. Von Stroh, who authors the state’s quarterly rental-vacancy surveys, said the 13.2 percent vacancy rate recorded in Mesa County in the fourth quarter of 2009 likely will be about the same and possibly slightly lower in the first quarter of 2010. The next vacancy survey is scheduled for release later this month or early next month.

McMaken said he doesn’t expect the number of affordable rental units to increase in Grand Junction until new apartments are built.

“If no new units are built, the price on other units doesn’t go down much,” McMaken said.


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