Peruse any local social community page and all too often you’ll find them. Dozens of daily inquiries about housing. “ISO housing. ISO roommate. Immediately INO of rental, please help.” Grand County is one the most stunning mountain communities in the Rockies, but it’s no secret that there’s a serious lack of housing.
Shortly after the launch of the WIG web page, I started reaching out to all the “ISO” people. I wanted to know who they were, where they came from and what brought them to Grand County.
The results weren’t surprising. People new to our county want what we have; a slow-paced, hidden mountain gem of a community filled with copious, year-round activities. They are mountain bikers, hikers, wranglers, and general nature lovers.
Shredders, snowmobilers, skiers, part-time students from abroad, and of course, plain old’ city folk fed up with fast-paced traffic clogging, air smogging city ways.
I spent a good deal of time chatting online with these people and had the opportunity to interview a few in person that wanted to learn more about Work in Grand.
Conversations and questions all made for a good read I thought until one pattern started to repeat itself. My independent, unsubsidized and nonscientific research revealed a common pattern. Our 20 to 30 something GC natives are being squeezed out of the county.
One such 20 something who is social shy (she kindly asked that her last name be withheld) is Sarah. Sarah, like many of our “homegrown”, was born and raised in GC. Sarah has only known the leisurely was of our pine and is a hard worker. She grew up in the Columbine Lake community outside of Grand Lake and, since young adulthood, has found steady employment in the housekeeping industry.
When I first started conversing with her, she was desperate to find a rental. In May she lived alone in very tiny 2-room, 1-bath dwelling in Fraser. Her monthly rent was $1K a month that included utilities. After living there for nearly two years her landlord chose not to renew her lease.
In one of Sarah’s ISO post, she pleaded her case for a rental that would accept her service dog. I asked her if her dog had been an issue with her search. “He is certified. I have his papers and a special ID card for him in my wallet. And yes, it is a very large obstacle. But I do need him, and I know I can’t be denied because of him, it’s against the law. And I also know I can’t be charged a deposit for him since he’s technically considered a tool in my life.”
On the Work in Grand webpage, several valley employers offer positions that include employee housing. I asked her if she had pursued any of those jobs. “Yes, I did. They won’t allow my dog even though he’s a registered service dog. I guess employee housing rules are different.”
Over the past two months, I’ve chatted with other native 20 and 30 somethings who’ve told similar, heartbreaking stories. They’ve lived here all their lives but with their local pay rate, can’t afford our expensive rental market when they do become available.
Many GC parents of young, native adult children sent their kids out into “the world” to find better opportunities. Of course, they are delighted that their children want to return back here to us but worry about the reality of their future here.
I myself have one such youngster who returned to GC, landed a very good municipal job with a great salary and outstanding benefits. Life was looking pretty good for him until he recently learned that the house he has been living in for the past three years is now for sale. His rental rate is far less than Sarah’s and his living space substantially larger.
He fears that even with his salary he won’t be able to afford the space and basic accommodations that he’s used to. He qualifies for a decent, first-time homeowners’ loan but our real estate market limits him to older and noticeably smaller 500 sq ft condos with no storage, rising HOA costs and special assessment fees.
A few days ago, I checked back in with Sarah who is basically homeless. She stays with friends when she can and camps out when she has no alternatives. She has a new job that pays far less than her previous one. She continues to look for housing but has exhausted all her resources. “Most of the places I’ve seen lately are roommate situations. I don’t feel comfortable with that. I’ve been looking actually for the last 6 months and now it’s a necessity. I found a 1-bedroom condo for $1500 plus electricity and that’s outrageous! I’m probably gonna have to leave, just drop everything and go. I cancelled all my extra payments, insurance on vehicles, etc. so I can save to leave. There are no options left.”
Grand County housing stories like Sarah’s and my young one is not unique in Colorado but it’s difficult to hear them repeated. Quite simply, our native, young adults can’t afford it here.
Meanwhile, other people come to work here and live our dream but can’t find housing, much less affordable housing. Most GC homes are made up of second homeowners who spend minimal time here, then use their properties for short term rentals to offset their costs.
Across the expansive Denver Front Range people in need of housing are getting creative in their search. They are exploring tiny home solutions, home share purchases, room sharing, and other options.
In GC however, our lack of inventory does allow for those opportunities. Some towns like Granby have affordable housing projects in the works. There have been many public hearings on the topic, and local GC businesses have partnered with town officials to explore solutions. For someone in Sarah’s situation, however, it may be too late.