Home on the range doesn't come cheap<br>Housing strategy forms in Cottonwood

The price of housing in Cottonwood jumped 80 percent in the 1990s.

That information, based on data compiled by the Cottonwood Housing Strategy group, is the focus of the city's attempt to get better, more affordable housing for residents. The group has spent the last few months gathering residential information.

At its May meeting, members reviewed the data with Martina Kuehl of the Office of Housing and Community Development. While they drew conclusions about what the community needs to meet housing demands, future meetings will outline strategies for meeting those needs.

Kuehl said apartment rental prices in Cottonwood increased 28 percent during the last decade, and the occupancy rate for multifamily units is 90 percent. That is the highest rate in the Verde Valley. To pay the monthly median rent of $505, a family needs an annual income of $20,800, according to the statistics. Kuehl said that applies to about 65 percent of the population.

Only one-third of the people earns an income sufficient to buy an existing house, she said. The median housing price is $111,000.

In order to put more people in site-built or manufactured homes, Kuehl said costs will have to come down or incomes will have to rise.

"Raising the income in an area is not an overnight deal," said Realtor Del Ray Hammons, a strategy group participant.

Gaining higher paying and higher quality jobs has become a focal point for the strategy. The group also concluded that the city needs a better-educated workforce and better housing for the elderly.

At a previous meeting, the group defined current housing conditions and problems. Those included the high cost of land and infrastructure, inadequate incomes, poor credit, lack of information for immigrants, limited space in crisis shelters and transportation costs for commuters.

According to the collected data, 33 percent of Cottonwood residents can afford to buy an existing house, and 28 percent can afford new home. About 73 percent have the income to purchase an existing manufactured home, and 48 percent could buy a new manufactured home.

Among the homeless and at-risk families, at least 808 more beds or housing units are needed. Kuehl said victims of domestic violence and chronic substance abusers have the greatest need for housing.

A frustrating aspect of forming a housing strategy is the limited amount of current information. The statistics of the 2000 census are only slowly trickling out of Washington, and categorized data is not expected for another year. The group is often dealing with 1990 census material and the latest estimates.

They can only guess at the current home ownership rate, which was only 56 percent in 1990, and the family makeup within the households. For the labor market, there are 2000 stats available to better paint the picture of the Cottonwood residents.

Housing strategy group members indicated that regional housing planning and development would be an appropriate response to the needs of the Verde Valley.

The completed Cottonwood Housing Strategy will be brought before the city council.

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