Last week, the Wall Street Journal laid bare a demographic inevitability that will affect the nation’s housing market: As baby boomers succumb to old age, one quarter of America’s homes will be for sale over the next two decades.
For some communities — especially those that have marketed themselves as retirement havens — this poses a big problem. Who will buy these homes? Especially in places where younger people don’t want to live?
Grand Junction and the Grand Valley aren’t in the same dire straits, perhaps, as Sun City, Ariz., or planned retirement communities in Florida. But before the silver tsunami crests and then recedes, communities everywhere need to anticipate whether today’s housing stock is a match for tomorrow’s demand.
The Journal article noted the obvious: Small towns and rural areas where young people are less likely to migrate could lead to depressed housing prices indefinitely.
A housing sales glut could lead to a shrinking tax base and less money for crucial services and dampen new home construction, an important contributor to the economy.
But a city with amenities — a place young people want to live — should survive the drought, said Jordan Rappaport, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
Another trend in favor of Grand Junction’s ongoing success is that increasingly, milennials and seniors often want the same things from their city — walkability, cost-efficient housing, a vibrant food scene.
That’s what Grand Junction is striving to be, with city leaders paying more attention to trails, connectivity, open spaces and access to amenities. In fact, they’ve done such a good job as to inspire a “warning” from Bobby Noyes, the owner of RockyMounts, who moved his company from Boulder to Grand Junction to escape sprawl, congestion and a runaway cost of living.
Speaking at the groundbreaking of a manufacturing facility in the new Las Colonias business park, Noyes asked city leaders to make responsible growth its top policy consideration.
“Grand Junction is the last cool, affordable town in Colorado,” he said. “In my experience, all cool places get ruined. We need smart growth and planning to maintain our ethos. I’ve seen this rodeo come through town. We want some of the horses, but not the stable.”
In our experience, there’s a simple way to address Noyes’ concerns, aside from the normal planning and visioning processes that all cities undertake. If we say we want responsible growth (including ways to mitigate the coming boomer effect) and write it down, it will happen.
Look at the visioning exercise the Grand Junction Economic Partnership undertook in 2017.
Stakeholders prioritized 10 goals they wanted the community to achieve by 2030. In two years, they had made substantial progress on eight of them. Goals like growing the tech industry, becoming an outdoor recreation hub, getting more direct flights to major cities and improving K-12 education and public safety all made gains. The only two that didn’t really happen at all were changing North Avenue’s name and establishing a community center.
The big takeaway is not that the community overachieved, but that it didn’t give itself permission to think bigger. Well here’s an opportunity to do just that. The City Comprehensive Plan Update process — One Grand Junction — is setting the stage for taking this idea to the next level. When attendees at last week’s Values and Vision Workshop were asked to describe their vision for Grand Junction in one word, the biggest response was “Livability.”