Often times it is difficult for many of us to imagine the difficulties facing others, especially when those challenges happen in such a beautiful place. This is especially true of situations unseen and stories untold. Someone shared with me recently that this is “the Season of Desperation.” That seems at odds with spring weather arriving, but if you find a job in Estes Park, you will probably want to find housing. Employers are finding it more common to hire a worker, only to have them quit or change their mind once they realize they cannot live in Estes Park—or close enough to justify a commute.
In early 2016, the Housing Needs Assessment report estimated that our region needs about 1,500 new housing units within five years to meet both the current backlog of demand and a steady increase in demand over the coming years.
Part of the Housing Needs Assessment survey of employers examined the size and scope of unfilled jobs in the Estes Park region. The survey estimated that 1,020 jobs were unfilled during the summer of 2015, and 690 jobs remained unfilled in the Fall of 2015 and start of Winter of 2015. These unfilled jobs included a range of 540 to 480 year-round jobs.
The number one identified barrier for workers is a lack of workforce housing in the Estes Valley. Fewer workers are willing to commute to Estes Park when similar jobs (in higher numbers) are available on the Front Range. We learned from studying transportation issues that the VanGo service estimates the cost for a single worker to commute from Loveland to Estes Park is $600 per month—that estimate was from before the Highway 34 closure. The Housing Needs Assessment estimated the commuting cost at $690 per month based on a thirty-mile commute. Commuting is always an option, but with hundreds of unfilled jobs, it is clear workers do not see it at the best solution.
The decline in available workers will have a profound impact on the level of services Estes Park residents should expect going forward. As we learned from the housing needs assessment, “in commuters are predominately employed in government and healthcare/social service professions. A higher percentage of in commuters are in health care, professional services and other services than local Estes Park area workers.” We can expect more essential service jobs will go unfilled in the future—unless and until we address workforce housing.
One thing that strikes me in our community discussion about workforce housing is that we never hear from the families who moved away. There is no voice from the seasonal workers who never arrive, or the year-round health care provider who turns down a job offer. The impact on our community of turning away our workforce has been profound. From 2000 to 2015, our median age increased by 23.7% to 56.3 years, while the U.S. median age increased 6.5% to 37.6 years old. We are nearly two decades older than the rest of the country. In 2000, 35 to 44 year-olds were 16.2% of our total population. By 2015, they were just 6.6 % of our population. In absolute terms, we lost over 1,000 residents in the 35-44 year old age bracket. The other age group that revealed a significant decline was those 18 and under, with an absolute decline of nearly 600 children. School District funding has suffered as a result.
There are stories behind every family that has moved away—or never arrived. Let’s try to imagine life with more families who live and work within Estes Park. Everyone’s quality of life will benefit from a multi-generational community.