The lack of affordable housing in Colorado Springs and all over the United States continues to be a hot topic. The economy has improved since the Great Recession, but not everyone has felt the benefits.

As people continue to move into El Paso County, there are fewer homes on the market, appreciation climbs and not enough homes below $300,000 are being built to keep up with demand.

On Nov. 17 the Colorado Springs Housing & Building Association hosted an expert panel at the county’s Centennial Hall to explore issues of affordable housing; the session included housing advocates, building industry representatives and local elected officials.

The panel was made up of Tatiana Bailey, executive director of the UCCS Economic Forum; Tom Binnings, senior partner at Summit Economics LLC; Laura Nelson, executive director of the Apartment Association of Southern Colorado; Todd Anderson, a longtime builder and developer in Colorado and former president of Challenger Homes; and Aimee Cox, CEO of the Community Health Partnership and former Colorado Springs community development manager.

Bailey and Binnings provided an economic perspective on housing affordability, Anderson offered the homebuilder’s view, Nelson spoke on housing from a multi-family development standpoint and Cox discussed community health as a factor in affordable housing.

The panel was introduced by Kevin Walker, policy adviser for Walker Schooler District Managers, a consultancy for special district management land development, entitlement and construction management, and moderated by Andrea Barlow, associate with N.E.S. Inc., which provides land use planning, landscape architecture and urban design implementation services.

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The panel was not there to provide solutions to the widespread problem, said Walker, but to offer their various perspectives to give their audience a better understanding of the issue.

“We do not believe we will solve the problem of affordable housing or affordability here today,” he said. “Indeed, as you will see, the issue is going on everywhere around the country, around the state, and we’re not unique … we hope [today] provides a foundation for all of us.”

According to Binnings, several key factors that increase home prices include low mortgage rates, low inventory, high demand and the addition of new building codes.

“Every five years we come out with a new code set,” Binnings said. “What’s interesting about building codes is they get layered on top of one another so they’re incremental.

“It’s almost like we’re looking for the perfect house with the lowest life-cycle maintenance cost.”

Land use regulations, the appeal of investing in housing, international demand for American real estate and threats of litigation are also increasing home prices, according to Binnings.

“We [also] have the construction labor shortage, which drives up the cost of building new housing, and we have developable land availability and that can be constrained by geography or land-use agreements,” he said.

Though competitive housing markets, physical depreciation of existing homes and stricter mortgage qualifications can decrease housing prices, many people can’t afford to buy a home, “so they’re stuck in the rental market,” Binnings added.

Binnings is right, according to Bailey,   who said the U.S. is at a historically low home ownership rate of 64 percent. In the third quarter of this year, the home ownership rate was only 35.6 percent for people under 35 years old.

During that same period, the median home price in Colorado Springs was $283,900, compared to Denver’s $418,100 and Boulder’s $563,500, said Bailey.

The median price in the U.S. is $255,600 and in Colorado it’s $331,000.

“[Colorado Springs] is trending in a direction that’s taking us closer to Denver and Boulder, especially if the trends in the last two years continue,” Bailey said. “Home sales had a big bump in 2015 and leveled off in 2016. What does that mean? We reduced supply, which only pushes prices further up.”

The average individual income in Colorado Springs, at around $42,000 as of 2015, is 19.4 percent less than Colorado’s $50,000 and 17 percent lower than the national average of $49,000, according to Bailey, who said something significant could have happened in the 1990s or 2000s that has made it difficult for El Paso County to catch up with wages, though she didn’t say what.

If home prices are continuing to climb and local wages have not kept up with the rest of Colorado, why aren’t builders developing more affordable housing?

Todd Anderson, who has worked as a homebuilder and developer for 32 years, broke down the cost of building a $250,000 home in El Paso County.

The first price breakdown is the cost of lots, which can cost $50,000 in El Paso County, Anderson said.

The second price breakdown is permits and fees.

When Anderson first started building homes in the Midwest, he said the total costs for a building permit with all associated fees was $175.

“I moved [to Colorado Springs] and got a real shocker — the city of Colorado Springs is around $15,000. If you want to build in Monument, it’s about $35,000 … in Fountain it’s about $33,000 in fees.”

Indirect or soft costs, which include administration and financing, for example, costs $45,000 and hard costs, which include materials, costs $125,000, Anderson said.

“If you build in an area that’s $15,000 in [permits and] fees, you can make about $15,000 as a builder on that home,” Anderson said. “If you’re in an area where you’re closer to $30,000, there’s not much left. So it’s just something we look at. … That’s just a reality of what we deal with day in and day out.”

There aren’t any builders developing homes to match median incomes in different parts of El Paso County, Anderson said, and when building new homes, builders are asking themselves whether it’s worth it or not to purchase a $23 doorbell for the home.

“That’s how granular discussion is going,” he said.

According to Bailey, Colorado is expected to see a population increase from around  5.5 million people today to 8.4 million by 2050, and El Paso County is one of six counties that are projected to have the “most growth along the Front Range,” Bailey said.

The slideshow version of the each panel member’s presentation can be found at cshba.com and there are plans for another discussion in early 2018.