The town of Ignacio is moving into the new year with plans to bring more housing options to the community after decades of decreasing development.
Communities around La Plata County are focusing on housing affordability as housing costs increase and more people move to rural areas during the coronavirus pandemic. In Ignacio, the town is trying to revitalize its aging housing stock with plans to create up to 115 new units.
“It’s a good feeling to see that we’re moving forward. When it gets done, it’ll be something to really celebrate,” said Mayor Stella Cox. “The next step is to get the plans out to developers and see if there’s anyone interested.”
The town has been working with Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc. to create a preliminary design for a mixed housing development at Rock Creek, a 5.8-acre property next to Quinchas Hill Avenue and north of Candelaria Drive.
The town trustees favored two of the proposed designs during their December meeting, each with a mix of apartments and townhomes with a community park. One favored design includes 83 units; the other, 115 units.
The town acquired Rock Creek with state money for affordable housing in the early 2000s, said Mark Garcia, interim town manager. At first, it was more than 55 acres, but the town sold the majority of the property to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe because of the Great Recession and the town’s inability to build housing on the parcel, he said.
“I’m excited about it. In the past, we’ve always wanted to look at housing availability for the town,” Cox said, adding that the town faces a unique challenge: It is “landlocked,” surrounded by the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, which limits its expansion options.
“Finally, we’re there,” she said.
The development would be a step toward addressing the town’s two main housing needs: variety and affordability.
Ignacio’s housing stock consists of about 465 units, about 86% of which is manufactured housing and single-family residential units, according to a 2020 housing study conducted by Short Elliott Hendrickson. Triplexes and complexes with four to eight units make up less than 6% of the housing stock.
Those structures are aging – construction has been declining since the early 1980s, the study said. The average year an existing Ignacio residence was built is 1958.
Similar to La Plata County and the state, renters represent the most cost-burdened group in Ignacio, spending between 30% and 40% of their income on rent each month, the study said.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines “affordable” as housing that costs 30% or less of a household’s income.
Homeowners tend to spend between 20% and 30% of their income on monthly housing costs, the SEH study said.
“I think there’s a need for all levels of housing,” Garcia said. “I don’t think there is ample housing in any of our communities, whether it be rental housing, affordable housing or attainable housing.”
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the issue: People have chosen rural areas over urban areas and more people are working remotely during the pandemic, Garcia said. Housing costs have increased throughout the region during the pandemic.
“It’s not going to go away,” he said.
In the next five years, La Plata County is also expected to see a “surge” in population growth, with its annual growth rate increasing from 1.3% to 2.1%, the report said.
Looking ahead, the SEH study recommended Ignacio redevelop underused tax-exempt parcels and diversify its housing stock.
It also emphasized retaining the town’s large population of 25- to 29-year-olds. Of Ignacio’s 718 residents, 45% are younger than 30.
“In general, we will try to promote Ignacio and provide housing,” Garcia said. “People may opt to live in Ignacio versus other communities due to affordability, if there is affordable housing available to them.”
firstname.lastname@example.orgEditor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the name of the company, Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc.