SARATOGA — Is there a need for affordable housing in Saratoga?
This is the question at least one member of the Saratoga Town Council is hoping to answer. As housing itself continues to be scarce in Saratoga—as of September 27 only 10 houses were listed on the Wyoming multi-listing website with only two of those below $200,000—the subject of affordable housing has also come up.
Council member Ron Hutchins brought up the subject of affordable housing under the council comments portion of the meeting.
“Recently there’s been some comments in the council meeting and some articles in the paper about affordable housing in town. I think it’s a valid subject. I’m not convinced it’s a government subject, but I’m looking for more information,” said Hutchins. “That being said, I think before we really start chasing down solutions we have to understand what the extent of the problem is. That’s the part that I’m struggling with, without paying $3,000 for another study my question to the members in the audience and the council is ‘Do we know what kind of problem we have here?’”
In 2018, the Carbon County Community Action Committee released its most recent community needs assessment. In that assessment, it was revealed Carbon County held 2.9 percent of those who live in poverty in Wyoming.
“Not counted in these figures are the working poor who generally do not qualify for benefits, but live paycheck to paycheck in less than good conditions,” wrote the authors of the assessment. “This almost invisible population makes painful financial choices every month; medicine or food? Gas for the car or shoes for the child? Any unforeseen problem such as illness, their car breaking down or other everyday setbacks places the working poor in crisis mode below poverty.”
Additionally, a total of 14 percent of Carbon County’s population was considered to be in poverty while the county was ranked 6th in cost of living in the state alongside Sheridan and Campbell counties.
“I think if some of the community organizations, maybe the churches and stuff, could put together a little summary of how big they think the problem is, how many people are in need. I did a lot of reading over the weekend about what some of the other communities are doing and I read a lot of information on (how) it’s a two-edged sword,” Hutchins said. “There’s been a lot of communities ruined, literally ruined, by implementing a program that wasn’t right for the community or building something that wasn’t effective.”
One example cited by Hutchins was the city of St. Louis.
While he did not cite the article he read, the council member stated the city had developed a low-income housing project seven miles outside of town. The result of that, according to Hutchins, was that those who utilized the low-income housing ended up spending more money on transportation due to a lack of nearby grocery stores and other services.
Another issue Hutchins was concerned with was relaxing the zoning to allow for affordable or low-income housing.
“There’s been communities that relaxed their zoning for the low-income housing, but then other businesses and other support structures for the added population ended up taking down the property values for the people that lived there,” said Hutchins. “There were a lot of articles on how racial issues affected the zoning and the property values, but these were impacts to the property values where other things besides the low-income housing moved into the neighborhoods. Plus the increased traffic, plus the impact it had on schools and infrastructure.”
While none of Saratoga’s zoned districts specifically target affordable or low-income housing, both RD 9000 and RD 9002 allow for the construction of multiple-family dwellings. Such zoning, however, is limited and has primarily been used for the building of single-family residences.
“A lot of communities didn’t realize it but, by building the low-income housing, it actually drew people to their community,” Hutchins said. “So, you have a tax base and a dollar per individual amount of money that’s spent every year for people in the communities and it increased the non-tax-paying people but not the tax-paying people in the community so their dollars per individual went down, so therefore their infrastructure.”
Though he stated he believed there is a need for low-income or affordable housing in Saratoga, Hutchins said other entities in town could help the Town of Saratoga figure out how big the problem was.
“I think that we should be doing things for the less fortunate individuals in our community but, I think, before we jump out there, maybe some of the other entities in town can help us determine how big the problem is right now and then we can scale the solution accordingly,” said Hutchins. “That being said, I would like to see if there’s somebody in town that maybe has some information.”