Getting by in Fort Collins

Colorado and U.S. Media (due to popularity of Colorado nationally)- CNN, NBC, CBS, COLORADOAN, DENVER POST

By Rebecca Lee Robinson

July 26th, 2014


An average family of four needs to make $64,331 a year in order to be completely self-sufficient while living in Larimer county, Colorado, according to a new study. Meaning that two adults in the home need to make $15.23 an hour and work full time to support their family and a single parent would need to earn $26.94 per hour. This rate is 10.6% higher than the Larimer county average in 2011 and an increase of 54.6% since 2001. These self-sufficiency levels are three times the U.S. national poverty level, which determines federal assistance to families, which is below $24, 250 for a family of four and $20,090 for a family of three. These numbers reflect the cost of housing, food, clothing, childcare, small savings, and other necessities. They do not include entertainment or the repayment of debt.

About 14.1% of residents in Larimer County live at or below the national poverty line and a median household income in the county at $54,626. For Fort Collins it is $63,500 for two according to a May 2015 Coloradoan article. “With a Colorado 2015 minimum wage of $8.23 per hour…[a] parent with two children working full time earns just over a third (only 34%) of the income needed to meet her family’s basic needs if she/he is not receiving any work supports” according to The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Colorado 2015. Even with childcare assistance the average worker at minimum wage would also only make 50% of what would be needed to support the family. With other benefits such as food assistance and housing assistance the ability to reach 98% sufficiency is possible. Though assistance is there, there also come long waiting lists for affordable housing. Other programs, such as WIC, expire when children reach certain ages. Making it still difficult to get by in the long term.

“I have to live with my dad,” says Tara Soulen, who works in retail earning only $9 an hour. “I can’t afford anything in town, even with my partner working full time and making more than me. We even had to sell my dad’s house and downsize because of an increase on the taxes, and the loss of my mom’s income.” Tara’s mother died of stomach cancer in late 2013, and even though Tara has a Bachelor’s degree, she hasn’t been able to find a job outside of retail. “I made more 20 years ago when I worked for the Denver Post than I do today.”

Rental costs have increased around 39% in Larimer County, since 2001, with costs even higher in areas such as Fort Collins and Loveland. Vacancy rates sit between 1-2% per quarter making the demand versus availability of rental properties tedious. The cost of buying a home in Fort Collins is increasing at twice the rate of the rest of the United States, making it difficult for young buyers to afford to purchase a home even with good income, and good credit. In 2014 the average home cost was “$325,044, up 8.6 percent from 2013 and up 15.3 percent from 2012, a Coloradoan analysis of single-family home sales shows. The median, or midpoint, last year was $285,450.” According to a June 2015 Coloradoan article.

While Fort Collins business and jobs are booming there is a major lack of property and houses for the influx in population. This has increased property prices but there are not enough high-paying jobs to keep up with demand. Fort Collins is land-locked and can’t expand its borders, creating a land rush in the city limits. Along with an increase in population every year, the housing supply and demand is tight, making it difficult for an average working class person to get by. Some houses sell in less than 24 hours, with about 24% being sold as cash offers. For those seeking loans, there are few options and little leverage. This is compounded by what looks like inevitable mortgage interest increases from 4-6.5% in the next year. Overall housing costs are increasing 20% a year, while wages increase around 1%, pushing those that earn less out of town, while higher earners are able to stay.

“If you wanted to sell a house and move out of state, it’s a great time. But if you need to stay in town and if you are middle class, it’s terrible.” Explains Soulen. “Our house sold in less than 48 hours, and luckily we found something else before, on the edge of town. Not everyone is that lucky.”