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Cost of Living

As a planning commissioner over the past five years, I've reviewed quite a few plans for housing developments. In those reviews, someone always asks what the price point is... especially when they talk about "affordable" housing. The answer never sounded affordable. The value of houses in Erie has been rising very quickly over the past decade since we moved here. It is difficult to get into a house with demand so high, but it is a great investment if you can make it work.

What happens when a person buys a deed-restricted house? The initial price of the house is subsidized by the town so that the starting value is lower than comparable houses nearby. Then, year after year as the value of houses around it increase exponentially, the deed-restricted value will be limited to the agreed upon rate (maybe 2-5%). If and when the owner attempts to sell the house, the maximum sale price will be based on the original value plus the pre-defined increase rather than market value. This is a great investment if the rate of inflation is equal to the pre-defined increase. But it is a terrible investment if inflation is substantially higher, which is likely to be the case in the coming years.

So, what do we do to make Erie more affordable?

There are two separate concerns here... a concern for the people who have already bought homes in Erie (current residents) and the ones who don't even look in Erie because it is outside of their price range. Heck, some of Erie's residents CHOSE to live here because Boulder and Niwot were out of their price range. We all make those choices. But, when our residents estimate the affordability based on the price of the house, it does them a terrible disservice to price them out with exorbitant utility bills, HOA fees, metro-district taxes, levies and other "soft costs". Erie residents are already spending too much on the rising costs of commuting long distances to work. The challenge is getting into the housing market and being able to remain in the home you bought. While home ownership can be a great long-term investment, it isn't wise for people to take on a mortgage that takes up more than 1/4 to 1/3 of their income... especially in a place that has rising "soft costs" that go above and beyond the house's price-tag.

Our concern for affordability often relates to ensuring that people who work in a place can afford to live there. For example, people who work in lower earning positions in Boulder would have difficulty even renting a studio apartment there. The University creates an unusual demand for housing because it brings in huge numbers of temporary residents whose housing is largely subsidized by parents, which drives the prices up. How many of Erie's residents actually work in Boulder, but live in Erie?

Wouldn't it be great if Erie had high-quality employment closer to home? Not only would that reduce travel demand by allowing some of Erie's residents to walk or bike to work, but it would allow additional small support businesses to thrive.