Durango’s high cost of housing has Fort Lewis College looking at ways to help employees, faculty and staff members with homeownership costs.
FLC’s board of trustees heard results from a survey of employees about their housing concerns and examined a demand study conducted by the school at the trustees’ meeting Friday, held virtually on Zoom.
“This is not a new issue. In 2007-08, we did a demand study,” Michele Peterson, associate vice president of finance and administration, told the board. However, the past year with the COVID-19 pandemic further heating the local real estate market, Peterson said the housing affordability problem has become acute.
The survey, completed by 126 faculty members and 215 staff members, showed the average housing costs, whether renting or buying, ranged from $1,792 to $2,248. Ideally, employees would like to pay between $1,065 and $1,174 a month for housing, the survey showed.
In general, employees were satisfied with their housing quality in Durango and La Plata County, except for its costs.
The survey showed the ability to own a home is a critical component for employees looking at long-term employment with the college, and the inability to find an affordable home poses a risk to retention of both faculty and staff members.
Rosalinda Linares, an FLC librarian, described the struggles of her and her partner to find an affordable Durango home.
She said the demand study showed the down payment needed for a median-priced house in Durango was $115,000.
“We owe more than that in student loans,” she said.
FLC employees, she said, frequently find themselves in her position – earning too much to qualify for state and federal housing-assistance programs but not enough to buy in Durango’s pricey market.
She estimated her partner and her would need to save for eight years to have $115,000, and by then she said appreciating housing costs likely would further inflate the cost of a down payment.
“We have begun contributing to the community because we want to make Durango our home,” she said. “It is our sincere hope Durango is a place where we can own a home.”
According to the demand study, based on the $575,000 median sales price of a single-family home in Durango, a household would need an annual income of $82,000. The average annual salary for a faculty member is $66,838 and the average annual salary for a staff member is $51,500.
The study showed two staff members combined were unlikely to be able to purchase a home in Durango.
Becky Clausen, associate professor of sociology and human services and faculty representative on the board of trustees, said the historic response for Durango’s high housing costs is to move farther from town, but even that is increasingly untenable.
“Well that’s what everybody’s doing, and prices near Durango are starting to reflect that,” she said.
According to the Durango Area Association of Realtors, the median sales price for a single-family home in La Plata County is $449,000, and a 20% down payment would equal $89,800.
The median price of a Durango-area country home is $569,750, and a 20% down payment would equal $113,950.
“What we’re hearing from faculty and staff is they believe they could afford housing at about half of what the current median prices are in Durango,” said Michael Valdez, an associate professor of management.
Trustee Mary Rubadeau, a former superintendent of the Telluride School District, said the time to move forward with helping FLC employees with housing costs is now.
“I’ve heard these stories 20 years ago in Telluride, and I think it’s really important to take some action now,” she said. “If we hadn’t moved in Telluride, the school district now wouldn’t be able to hire a principal or a math teacher.”
Rubadeau said Telluride School District offers housing assistance to employees with deed restrictions that keep price appreciation down and require employees to sell their homes to other school district employees.
She also said it’s important to reach out to the city of Durango, La Plata County and Durango School District 9-R to involve them with any future housing-assistance programs.
“We’re all facing similar challenges,” she said.
Trustees gave staff members the go-ahead to further study programs that might be created to help with housing costs and to talk with other governmental entities that might be interested in partnering in housing-assistance programs.
Trustee Dick Kaufman said housing costs have been a frequent problem he’s heard about in his five years on the board.
“I’m glad we finally have a blueprint to address this issue,” he said. “This needs to be placed up there with our other core responsibilities, and it needs to be at center stage.”