It will take a full community effort to solve Craig’s ongoing housing shortage.
But some of the most motivated entities – the city’s employers – are at the table with the city to discuss how to solve the problem.
On Thursday afternoon, representatives from a number of employers, large and small, in the city joined city staff and a group of consultants hired by the city to discuss the magnitude of the need for housing and some of the roads out of this hole.
The problem, especially for larger employers like the hospital and school district, is quite simple to explain.
“We offered applicants jobs, and they turned them down,” said Derrick Webb, director of human resources at Memorial Regional Hospital. “They can’t find a place to live.”
Echoing that desperate sentiment is Moffat County School District Superintendent Scott Pankow.
“We should employ over 300 people,” Pankow said. “But we can’t fill all the positions. We have lost people because of housing. We need help.”
Shannon Scott, the city’s economic development manager, helped moderate the discussion, which was largely led by a presentation from Williford, LLC, a land use planning and affordable housing consulting group led by Willa Williford, who led the presentation.
Williford and his team completed a housing needs assessment late last year for the city – they are also working with neighboring municipalities, including Hayden and Steamboat Springs, on similar, albeit separate, issues, not to mention the towns and villages of Mountain West. In Craig’s assessment, they identified that approximately 75 units, including rental and sale, were needed to reach a healthy market in the city.
“Of this amount, the city aims to develop 90% of identified needs by 2027,” Williford said. “It’s an aggressive approach, but it involves 32 to 45 units for sale and 23 to 36 rentals. We would call hitting those numbers a home run.
However, the consultants heard the concerns of participants who felt that these figures could not be high enough.
“That number seems low to me,” said Tom Kleinschnitz, director of Moffat County Tourism. “We have 2,000 people traveling to Routt County for work, and it will soon be 3,000. Forty-five (units for sale) doesn’t seem close.
Moreover, the schedule seemed too conservative for some of the employers present.
“I need something in two months,” Pankow said. “Not five years.”
The problem, however, is making it happen, Williford explained. The city has averaged five building permits per year for a number of years. Reaching 75 new units in five years would blow all that away. This requires significant investment from many parties.
The problem is a sort of inverse dynamic of supply and demand. Essentially, while there is undeniably a demand for housing in Craig, a developer who might be considering investing in the area would find that the demand in question is for housing that can be sold or rented at a considerably lower rate at the same cost to build housing built just to the east at Steamboat Springs or even Hayden.
“Houses have to be cheap,” said Randy Looper, who serves on the Local Marketing District and was a hotel owner in Craig for years. “If you can’t do it at the price point, it’s not worth it.”
So, since the cost-benefit ratio for a developer doesn’t match, some concessions will have to be made to make it worthwhile for a developer to build here.
But employers seemed open to making something work.
“I wouldn’t say anything is off the table,” Webb said. ” It’s a big problem. If there’s an idea, we’ll give it a shot.
The answer will have to be multifaceted. For example, the former MRH building on Russell Street, bulldozed last year, is an attractive location for potential housing development. The question is how to make it work. Webb noted that an HRM proposal had been untenable due to various zoning requirements, largely surrounding parking, but the hospital was working on another concept to put on the table.
Meanwhile, the city has the ability — there and elsewhere — to ease the process by changing zoning or other regulations.
There are other lots, including one owned by the city near Woodberry Park, on which housing could be built. There are other places on the edges of town. In such cases, access to infrastructure – normally a cost borne by the developer – is a major obstacle. The city plans to use money given to it by various sources, including the American Rescue Plan Act, to bring sewers and water lines to the sites.
Another tool that Williford talked about is the concept of master leasing.
“Let’s say you have a 20-unit apartment building coming to town, an employer has decided to take 10 units and pay rent for them regardless of occupancy and manage people coming in and out “Williford explained.
In this situation, the employer would charge rent to the employees, but the developer would have a guaranteed income stream built into the development that they can rely on, eliminating some of the construction risk.
“The developers are here and ready,” Scott said. “It’s a question of knowing how to take the leap? Every situation is different, but that’s the challenge for the city.
The next workshop for the city regarding the housing issue is March 14 at 9 a.m., a virtual meeting where an architect will discuss options, including unit density, for some of the available land on which housing could be built.