Saratoga housing shortage prompts affordable housing discussion


SARATOGA — As houses seemingly fly off the market and rentals are non-existent in the Platte Valley, the topic of affordable housing appears to be ever more prevalent. 

During the May 11 meeting of the Saratoga Planning Commission, the need for affordable housing was raised by Steve Niccolls, a Saratoga resident and pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Saratoga. 

“If it wasn’t for the fact that the church that I serve provided me with a manse, I’m not sure I would have been able to stay here because, one, there is no housing available and, two, when it is available it’s a little higher than what a lot of people can afford,” said Niccolls. “I’m also speaking as a parent who, in August of this past year, my daughter was forced out of California when her two jobs were eliminated due to COVID. She has a job here full-time at what we might consider a decent wage for Saratoga and she hasn’t been able to find any place to rent.”

According to Niccolls, he had received a text message from his daughter on a Friday afternoon about an appointment to see a potential rental. By Friday evening, however, his daughter had been informed that the space had already been rented. The pastor asked the planning commission if there was space for affordable housing in the Town of Saratoga’s master plan. 

“It is a concern. I don’t know if everybody shares the concern but I know in the 2016 Master Plan affordable housing was addressed quite a bit in there,” said Chairman Tom Westring. “I don’t know that it’s been implemented a lot since 2016. What is affordable? Basically the master plan refers to affordable housing.” 

The 2016 Master Plan, which can be found on the Town of Saratoga website under “Local Information,” does slightly address affordable housing. For example, under the goal “Incentive options for development of affordable housing” on page 57 of the 256 page document, four steps are provided for the Town of Saratoga. 

Those steps read: 

Encourage manufactured housing to provide quality and cost advantages over site-built housing;

Evaluate zoning, subdivision ordinances, architectural design standards and other requirements which can limit the number of locations where manufactured housing can be placed;

Evaluate and mitigate regulatory barriers for low-income apartment apartment housing developments, and

Promote the use of manufactured housing in HUD-Code parks and infill in traditional subdivisions, along with allowing placement in new single-family subdivisions.

A look at the Town of Saratoga’s most recent zoning map, which was printed in 2018, shows little potential zoning for either multifamily or affordable housing. The most common zoning within town limits is RD 6000, which does allow for both multifamily housing and mobile homes on individual lots as well as mobile home parks. The majority of areas zoned RD 6000, however, are already developed for single-family housing. 

The least common zoning is RD 9000, which allows for multifamily housing, duplexes and mobile home parks. Only two areas within town limits fall within this zone with one along Sierra Madre Drive, but is part of the subdivision currently being developed by Octagon Construction. The other area is along 13th Street and has at least one multifamily residence. 

“I spent 50 years living in the San Francisco Bay Area before moving here,” said Niccolls. “I understand ‘affordable’ is a nebulous term to say the least.” 

According to the most recent Carbon County Community Survey of Needs and Services, compiled in April 2018, 14 percent of Carbon County residents live in poverty. Of those, 12.3 percent are males and 16.5 percent are female. As of 2018, there were 6,095 family households living in Carbon County and, of those, 688 earned less than $15,000 a year.

The 2021 Poverty Guidelines released by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, additionally, put one person making $12,880 a year as being at the federal poverty level. Further, a household of two people making $17,420 a year and a household of three people making $21,960 a year is considered to be at the federal poverty level. 

In a 2017 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a person in Carbon County would need an annual income of over $30,000 a year to be able to rent a two-bedroom house at fair market value without spending more than 30 percent of their income. 

According to information from the State of Wyoming Economic Analysis Division, rental costs for apartments dropped between the 2nd quarter of 2019 and the 2nd quarter of 2020 while they rose in every other category. The largest increase was seen in mobile homes, which went from an average of $848 a month in 2019 to $910 in 2020, an increase of 7.3 percent. 

While affordable housing is practically non-existent in the Valley, so too is housing at this point.

“For what it’s worth, I’ve talked to the owners of two different restaurants in town and they are struggling trying to get employees and housing is a major factor,” said Theresa Ramsey-Manley, one of the newest additions to the planning commission. 

As of May 17, there were eight listings for Saratoga on the Wyoming Multiple Listing Services website (www.wyomingmls.com). Of those, two were $750,000 or more and outside Saratoga’s municipal limits. Of the remaining six, one is a series of condominiums currently under construction and the other five are listed as “pending-continue to show.” 

No formal action was taken, but Niccolls was thanked for bringing the discussion to the planning commission.

“I appreciate the comments, I think it does need to be taken seriously because a lot of our service industry jobs … it is becoming unaffordable for a lot of those (people) and those are positions that we need,” said Westring.

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