High home prices, low wages collide in Mancos

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Thinking of settling down in Mancos and buying your first home? Good luck. It’s not easy and it’s not cheap.

Ask a realtor, town employee or resident about “affordable housing” in Mancos and the response is a chuckle. Those two words don’t go together here.

According to quarterly reports for the months from April to June of 2003, houses in town are selling for anywhere from $80,000 to $250,000, with the average selling price falling at $111,000.

To folks in areas such as La Plata County, this may not seem like much. But according to the most recent census, the average family income in Mancos is $22,000 and at least 50 percent of the population falls into the low-income bracket. People cannot afford a $100,000 house on $22,000 a year.

Housing prices outside the town limits are even more dismal. From Summit Ridge to Weber Canyon, houses are selling for averages of $213,000 and $240,000 respectively.

Looking at some of the traditional less-expensive options uncovers other obstacles.

One option is a trailer or manufactured home. If you can even get one financed, unless it was grandfathered into your lot, town codes forbid putting either of these onto a lot. Although modular homes have come a long way over the years, they still don’t pass muster here.

They are built to HUD code but are not up to the Uniform Building Code, which is mandatory for town lots that are zoned Single Family Residence. Manufactured homes can be brought up to code with a little work and approximately $17,000, but that defeats the advantage of buying one.

Why are things so skewed? According to Ed Morlan, executive director of Region 9 Economic Development District, it’s largely supply and demand.

“With more and more ‘urban refugees’ moving to the valley, the demand for more housing and more development rises,” Morlan said.

“But supply is limited due to the amount of public lands, the physical landscape limitations and an infrastructure that cannot sustain much more growth.”

One of the main limitations is water. Mancos, like the rest of the county, is stretched to capacity in terms of providing water for its residents, farms, parks and businesses, so a place with water on it is a hot commodity.

Who is buying the expensive real estate in Mancos? “It is hard to say,” commented Bruce Johnson, economic development specialist for Mesa Verde Country. “We don’t have any significant developments to question the demographics.”

Back in the ’80s, there was a push to attract retirees to the area. Now a group wants to revive this effort.

But many Mancos residents have concerns. They wonder whether those people will become a part of the community. Will they vote in school-board elections, create local jobs, and spend their money in town? Often, though not always, the answer is no.

Retirees are not the only ones moving in and driving up home prices. Many people are escaping from someplace larger and faster-paced. Many of these folks work as consultants or commute to jobs, again increasing the demand for housing, yet not supplying more economic stimulation.

Much of this is speculation, said Johnson. “One reason people pick this area is to be remote or to travel a lot, so you don’t become aware of who these people are.”

Johnson claimed he finds it “hard to accept that it’s too expensive to live here” given that the average house in Durango sells for $280,000. Maybe that’s why so many people want to relocate here, but that doesn’t solve the affordable-housing problem.

A few homes are being offered through a sweat-equity program, wherein homeowners help build their homes in exchange for a lower-priced house. There are also rentals in Overlook Village, where rent is set according to income.

But work needs to continue, officials say.

Mayor Greg Rath said, “The future of the town and the school is young people and their families moving in. If the housing market is out of line with the economic market, then we need to work together to fix the problem.”

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From September 2003.