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Council examines housing

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County > Survey reveals few surprises

By Arin McKenna

A recently conducted housing survey yielded no surprises, but will provide focus as staff develops what it calls its “balanced housing strategy.”
Housing Manager Paul Andrus presented the results to council at its Tuesday work session. The survey was conducted over a three-week period using Survey Monkey online and providing hard copies at the senior center and libraries. There were 702 online respondents and 16 handwritten responses.
The survey failed to capture as many commuter responses as Andrus would have liked, with 89 percent of respondents residing in the county. Those who answered were primarily homeowners.
The goals of the survey were to:
• Define potential market for housing programs and activities
• Identify specific areas of need to inform programs
• Test level (or gap) of public awareness of programs and resources
• Explore influencing factors regarding housing choice
• Identify potential trends and/or areas of opportunity
• Gauge community opinion regarding housing as an important component of economic development
Those surveyed rated entry level and move up housing as the highest need, and there was strong agreement that workforce housing is important to the local economy.
Not surprisingly, affordability remains a major factor for prospective buyers, although lack of choice and property conditions were key elements as well.
Much of the discussion centered on the need for better value in existing housing stock.
“We had a lot of both sellers and buyers expressing some level of feeling that the property conditions in the community is affecting either their ability to buy or wanting to purchase or, on the other side, selling,” Andrus said.
“We’ve got tremendous properties that have been maintained and are fairly modern. We have some properties that are still holdovers from an earlier era, not only from a condition standpoint but also from a particular unit standpoint. They’re not competitive anymore.
“The housing survey continues to support the need for new, modern options and replacement. That’s going be an interplay we’re going to continue to deal with, the balance between existing housing stock and the market demand for something new, something more modern, a little bit larger than studio units.”
Renters and those commuting from the valley cited misalignment between housing cost and quality as a major reason for not purchasing. Forty-eight percent said that housing was too expensive, 26 percent said that homes in their price range were too small and 33 percent said those homes needed too much work.
Those who have attempted to sell reported that the recession’s impact on home prices and the need for repairs were the two highest factors inhibiting their ability to sell.
During public comment, KRSN co-owner David Sutton delineated some of the obstacles homeowners face.
“I’m one of the people who own one of those 70-year-old homes,” Sutton said.
Sutton noted that older homes have only one bathroom, which makes it difficult to even rent the home. Any major repair requires a rewiring of the entire home. In homes with cedar shake siding, you cannot enlarge or add a window without replacing siding on the entire side of the house.
“So you wonder why the houses haven’t changed. You wonder why nobody will buy a quad or a duplex. Well, I know why. I get it,” Sutton said.
Read about what county staff is trying to do to assist low-income homeowners in Thursday’s Los Alamos Monitor.