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Housing's fore-gotten 

While military families boost occupancy rates, foreclosure families navigate a shadow market

A dip in apartment vacancy rates should be great news, but local industry professionals aren't celebrating yet. That's because they say decreasing local figures reflect an influx of Fort Carson troops, but not necessarily an economic recovery.

The Colorado Division of Housing recently reported Colorado Springs' vacancy rate stood at 8.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009, down from the 10.4 percent for the same period in 2008 and dramatically lower than the 12.6 percent rate reported in 2006.

"It's definitely the military coming in," says Apartment Association of Southern Colorado executive director Laura Russmann. "Pretty much you can see the vacancy rate mirror the deployments. If the troops leave again, [the occupancy rate] could go right back down."

Although Fort Carson's troops are rotating in and out of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the post says its population (including soldiers' families) has almost doubled to 61,200 in 2009 from 32,700 in 2006.

In addition, apartment numbers may be healthier precisely because the economy isn't. Housing Division spokesman Ryan McMaken notes that a lot of "upper-end renters" who would've bought houses in the past have had a tougher time qualifying for a mortgage.

And then there are foreclosures. During the last four years, 8,086 properties, most of them homes, were sold due to foreclosure. That means thousands of families were evicted and might be new to the rental market. But while renter questionnaires give some clues as to applicants' comings and goings, Russmann says nobody really tracks where foreclosed families move.

For her part, Russmann gives two reasons why they're unlikely apartment renters. First, given their foreclosures, they wouldn't pass a credit check required by many landlords. Second, most families who've lived in single-family homes don't want to relocate to an apartment setting.

That would leave them with rental houses, which Russmann says the local industry knows little about.

Pat Stanforth, senior vice president at property management firm Griffis/Blessing, says she doesn't monitor how many renters lost their homes to foreclosure, but she thinks they wind up renting other single-family homes. While Griffis/Blessing's 3,821 properties saw vacancy rates fall from about 14 percent in late 2008 to about 8 percent in late 2009, owners have had to loosen credit requirements.

"We had to work a lot harder to get people qualified," she says. "Rents are not real strong. People are still losing jobs."

Carolyn Rogers, manager of All Seasons LLC, which manages more than 400 single-family homes as rentals, suspects that most people who lose their homes rent from individuals who don't check credit ratings. She says she's had "quite a few" foreclosure victims apply for a rental, but adds, "that doesn't mean we've accepted them." (If their only black mark is a foreclosure, she says they have a chance of being approved.)

El Paso County Public Trustee Tom Mowle says it's time to track where families who lose their homes go. One reason is to help human services agencies plan for growing needs.

"It's relevant from a public policy standpoint," Mowle says. "Some of us care about what happens to our neighbors. Where are they going to go? Are they going to stay here? Are they going to use Colorado services? Are they living on Fountain Creek?"

zubeck@csindy.com

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