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Development

Housing study aims to shed light on city’s biggest issue

Study reflects hopes of potential and established residents

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The hottest topic in Lakewood is, and has been for the past several years, growth and development in the city.

The issue has caused excitement for some, with the new opportunities for business and residences the growth brings, but for others it’s a topic of fear. There is a growing concern the city is losing itself, and this has led to proposals of building moratoriums and growth caps.

Lakewood’s deputy city manager, Nanette Neelan, knows exactly what many residents are going through.

“There’s nothing for me to buy that has a smaller footprint,” she said. “There’s an attainability, rather than affordability, issue we need to look at in Lakewood.”

In October of last year, Lakewood embarked on a housing study to learn about the city’s existing stock, what is missing, and what current and future residents are looking for in a community. As David Schwartz, vice president of Economic and Planning Systems, the company hired to help put the study together, explains, it quickly became more than simply an examination of housing.

“It became a community development study,” he said. “We’re collecting data to tell a story. We’re not just looking at development for the benefit of people who aren’t here yet, but development for those who are already here.”

The study is not yet finished, but city council has received updates in February, March, June and August (all are available online). Currently, Schwartz, Neelan and staff are examining potential policy options city council could pursue based on the data. The hope is to present before planning commission and council sometime in the next few months.

“There’s a lot of really helpful information for us moving forward,” said Mayor Adam Paul. “With all the talk about growth, the study allows us to see what we have and don’t have.”

The draft of the housing study results provides interesting reading a variety of topics, and here are a few of the standouts.

Space limited for some time

By the turn of the century, Lakewood was already 93 percent built out. So most the development the city has seen in the ensuing 16 years have either been in the remaining 7 percent, or redevelopment.

But despite the lack of area to grow in, Neelan said the city has been targeted about where development happens.

“There’s a lot of fear that existing neighborhoods are being decimated, but our comprehensive plan ensured most development happens in specific areas,” she said. “There are areas where we don’t want to be a stagnant community, and areas where we want to see redevelopment.”

The constrained supply and continued demand pressure is leading to higher housing costs, and there’s also a problem with variety of housing stock. Neelan said many seniors want to age in place, but in a smaller home, and are having a difficult time finding a suitable home.

Jobs and housing don’t match

For people who work in Lakewood but can’t afford to live in the city, the study sheds a little light on the dilemma.

“For every three jobs the city has added, only one housing unit has been added,” Schwartz said. “It’s a problem when your employment is growing, but the population is not.”

With a median existing home resale price of around $337,583 in Lakewood, the study shows that construction workers, health care and social assistance, educational services and more can’t afford to live in the city. Instead, industries like technical services, public administration and manufacturing who make enough to live in the city.

“We know we need some kind of balance,” Neelan said. “We want to continue to bring in higher paying jobs, but we need options.”

Rent and affordable options

One of the common complaints longtime residents have is the preponderance of rental properties being built in the city instead of ownership opportunities.

And while that is something Neelan would like to see more of, apartments are often a first step to setting down roots in a community.

“A lot of the population in apartments just started out in a job, or are new to an area,” Schwartz said. “After they start earning more, they’re able to look at places to live in the community they’re in.”

Which brings the issue of affordability back to the fore.

Metro West Housing Solutions has been building affordable housing to the city for years, with recent projects like Lamar Station Crossing and CityScape at Belmar creating waiting lists in the thousands.

“We’re seeing a severe lack in affordable housing in Lakewood, where most people have to pay well over 30 percent of their income to rent,” said Tami Fischer, executive director and CEO of Metro West. “People love to live where they work, and have a shorter commute, but most just can’t afford it.”

Metro West has two projects in the works, but more is going to have to change to address the city’s housing problems.

“I don’t see an answer laying ahead of us,” Fischer said. “I see us always falling behind.”

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