Housing Roundtable Details Future Needs Assessment Study

Adequate and affordable housing is a central ingredient in the economic development of Lamar and Prowers County. Although some studies have already been conducted on housing needs in the local area, an in-depth listening session which will combine group and one-on-one interviews and a printed questionnaire survey, will be conducted in southeast Colorado in July.

The Prowers Economic Prosperity roundtable for housing met at the SECED offices on West Elm Street on Friday, June 16th for their regular monthly meeting.  SECED Executive Director, Stephanie Gonzales was joined by local contractor, Chris Currell, PEP Executive Director Eric Depperschmidt, Sondra Angel, Executive Director of the Lamar Housing Authority, Sheryl Runyon of Runyon Incorporated for design and structure, and by phone with Jennie Rodgers from the Community Strategy Institute which will conduct the housing needs assessment.

There is a need for housing in Lamar on every level of the economic spectrum, age group, and for either renters or prospective homeowners. Long-time local contractor, Chris Currell, shared some architect concepts for a tri-plex featuring three bedroom homes, with office and each unit would be separated from the other by indoor garages as a buffer for noise and general privacy.  “We haven’t seen a house built on spec in Lamar for the longest time,” Currell stated, adding that he took a financial loss on the last one he constructed several years ago.  The plans he showed were for a more upscale living arrangement, one that would attract a person at a higher income level such as a physician.

He explained, “We’re running into a situation where a house for sale in a higher income neighborhood such as Willow Valley is already 40 to 50 years old and on top of the purchase price, a buyer is looking at upgrades from around $40,000 to $50,000. At that price, they’re opting for a house they can build themselves or is only a few years old.”

At the same time, the local economic downturn for agriculture has its own set of problems as explained by Sondra Angel from LHA. “We have sixty houses which are USDA properties for low-income farm laborers in three counties, but because of some problems with health-related produce several years ago and the closing of an onion farm, there aren’t enough farms to attract workers and we stand a chance to lose the financing on those vacant properties.” Angel said her department has used a Diminished Need application for any type worker, but there is another side of the coin that works against us, “Some of the local dairies have workers in these units, but because of their salary level, coupled with their overtime, they’re earning too much to qualify for the low-income apartments so we need to find a workable solution to this situation.”

Prowers County also has a large aging population, which, as it grows older, brings along special housing needs. Angel explained, “Strainhurst North and South is full and we have 21 people on the waiting list who want to move in.  The residents are on fixed incomes and some require some healthcare needs and there isn’t much for local housing for this group of people.”  This discussion focused on older homeowners who may consider selling their larger homes which have become too burdensome for upkeep, but want to remain local for their family and friends.  The sale of their houses could help open the market, but there isn’t any housing that meets their local needs.  One option would be an elderly housing or retirement-type village, but financing such a venture is costly.

The housing needs assessment scheduled for July will provide a report from a community survey, private interviews and discussions with key individuals from local banking, realtors, construction, farming and retail. The questions will provide insights regarding land and building opportunities in the county, earning income per household, rental stock currently available, job development, growth projections and an assessment of the current housing stock in the area.  The study is being grant funded through DoLA and SECED.

By Russ Baldwin

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