What's affordable?

I will admit that there are times when I don’t want to recognize how much Saratoga has been growing in recent years. Part of me wants the sleepy little town I remember from middle school and high school to remain that way.

Then I scroll through my social media feed and I see the posts that show growth is inevitable.

“Looking for a two bedroom apartment, must accept dogs, can afford $800 a month.”

“In search of an affordable house for rent. Single parent with three kids.”

I’ve lost count of the number of posts I’ve scrolled through from various people looking for an affordable place to rent in the Valley, let alone Saratoga, prior to moving here.

Last week, the Saratoga Sun ran two places for rent in our classified section. Placed on a Friday, the owner called Monday afternoon and asked us to pull them for our next run because they had already rented them out.

Look for rentals in the Saratoga and Encampment area on White Stone Realty Company’s website and you’ll be hard pressed to find anything.

In recent years, I’ve seen rent range from $800 to $1,500 per month with the tenant still needing to pay water and electric.

Part of this, of course, is how the free market tends to play out; the demand goes up and the supply goes down and so the costs go up.

As Saratoga continues to grow as a tourist destination and the luxury ranches continue to grow and cater to their clientele, it requires more staff. Not just at the luxury ranches, but at the local restaurants that get busier in the summer because more tourists come through. The hotels, motels and resorts need more staff as well.

I wouldn’t be shocked to find if, eventually, more people in the Valley are employed in the service and tourism industry than they are in the oil, gas and coal industry.

Of course, that presents a bit of a problem. While jobs in the oil and gas industry have paid fairly well and have allowed employees of that industry to purchase homes, that’s not always the case with the service and tourism industry.

With the growth we’re seeing in Saratoga, I think that it would behoove us to consider affordable housing. By affordable housing, I don’t mean $1,500 per month for rent with all utilities included.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there are 19,215 renter households in the state that are considered to be extremely low income. Additionally, Wyoming needs nearly 8,000 homes that are affordable and available for extremely low income renters.

Furthermore, to be able to afford a two-bedroom rental home based on Housing and Urban Development’s fair market rent, a household would need to make $35,663 a year.

In fact, according to data from the National Low Income House Coalition, someone making minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) in Wyoming would need to work 76 hours a week just to be able to afford a one bedroom rental home at fair market rent.

So, what is affordable at $7.25 per hour? Well it’s $377 per month. Far below the fair market rent in Carbon County of $721 per month for a one bedroom house or $874 for a two bedroom house.

This discussion about minimum wage and the service industry will, inevitably, lead to discussion about how these aren’t “real” jobs and that they were meant for high schoolers and not adults. We’re not going to have that discussion here beyond me saying that whether it’s the line cook at your local restaurant or the person cleaning a room at a hotel, they are real jobs because someone has to do those jobs.

Understandably, it is difficult for some of these small businesses to pay enough for their staff to afford rent prices, at least when there are rentals available.

Growing up, I was always told that the free market would always fill a need.

Well, I see a need. Will the free market respond?


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