Cost of Living

Is the Gunnison Valley an expensive place to live?

The simple answer is “yes.” Wages are lower and costs for housing and other basic essentials are higher than many other places in the state of Colorado and the United States. However, relative to other ski valleys in the Rocky Mountain West, the Gunnison Valley is actually surprisingly affordable. Unfortunately, wages in the Gunnison Valley are low enough to counteract many of the benefits we gain from our relatively lower housing costs.

Below, we’ll provide some more details about efforts underway in the Gunnison Valley to ensure a more prosperous future for our entire community. We’ll also provide some additional facts about costs of basic necessities and how they compare to incomes in Gunnison County.

One Valley Prosperity Project and Cost of Living

Through the One Valley Prosperity Project (OVPP), the Gunnison Valley has made a commitment to looking inward at our strengths and weaknesses and outward for examples of success we can emulate and modify for our specific circumstances here. We aim to pave the way to a future of greater prosperity in the Gunnison Valley for all, from Gothic to Gunnison.

The community and local governments have developed specific strategies to address cost of living challenges. We are proactively developing workforce housing throughout the Gunnison Valley for a wide range of income levels—gains have been made in the past two to three years with more expected. The success of the ICELab in growing and supporting local businesses creates more jobs in our Valley and is also working to increase wages locally. We are different from many communities experiencing these issues because we have a clear action plan developed by the Community Builders Task Force to alleviate and mitigate the impacts on our residents.

We are now two years in to the One Valley Prosperity Strategy plan. Starting to look back on our progress towards achieving the goals selected during the One Valley Prosperity Project, we’ve identified four areas of focus that have special relevance to those living here today:

  • housing;
  • income and jobs; and
  • poverty.

All of these areas fall under the framework of cost of living here. The Gunnison Valley is one of the least expensive mountain valleys with a ski resort in the entire Rocky Mountain West in which to live. But, residents still face challenges related to the ways housing, income, jobs, and poverty intersect and contribute to our higher than average cost of living in the state of Colorado.

Affordable Housing

Finding affordable housing frequently ranks among the biggest challenges in the Gunnison Valley and the problem currently seems to be getting worse, not better. The median home price is up 15% valley-wide since 2015 and rental rates have climbed 5% since then as well. The median home price is 42% higher than the state average.

 

Yes, rents and home prices are far less expensive than many, if not most, other ski towns. Being relatively inexpensive compared to towns like Aspen and Telluride doesn’t help locals in the Gunnison Valley trying to find housing now.

Average Price per Square Foot, 2018 Year-to-Date


Gunnison Valley Roaring Fork Valley Yampa Valley
$312 $409 $249

Line graph showing the cost of housing per square foot over time in the Gunnison Valley and elsewhere

Home prices continue to escalate throughout the County. As a result, many single family homes are unattainable to purchase for the average household making the median income of $55,400. Current home listings in the northernmost parts of the county—in and around the Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte areas—are particularly challenging. The median price for homes listed in Crested Butte, for example, has reached $1.4 million for a 2,200 square foot home—that’s roughly $660 a square foot. At this price, a household making the area median income could only be able to purchase a home smaller than 368 square feet. Source: Williford LLC.


  Crested Butte Other Upper Valley Crested Butte South Other Gunnison County Mt. Crested Butte Gunnison
Median Home Price $1.48 M $1.525 M $595K $645K $627K $327.5K
Median Square Feet 2,242 3,202 1,950 2,494 1,372 1,565
Media Price per Square Foot $660 $476 $305 $258 $457 $209
Square Feet Median Income Affords 368 510 796 940 531 1,161
Income Where Housing Costs=30% $362,290 $373,306 $145,650 $157,890 $153,606 $80,169
% of Households Above Income Requirement 1% 1% 10% 4% 4% 31%

Rents

The median monthly rent in Gunnison County for occupied units is $800. However, the median price for units for rent is $1,767. Of Gunnison County’s 11,580 housing units, 41% are renter occupied. Fifty-eight percent of renters pay over 30% of their household income to rent each month. Additionally, 26% of Gunnison County renters pay over 50% of their household income on rent.

Multiple projects are underway to build additional affordable rental units in the Gunnison Valley, but we are fighting an uphill battle.

Income and Jobs

The picture with regards to jobs is rosier than the housing picture here in the Gunnison Valley. The lack of affordable housing and the currently booming economy intersect and result in an extremely low unemployment rate at the moment. Average earnings have grown by 5.3% (about the same growth rate as average rents) and the number of available jobs has also grown about 5%.

Infographic showing unemployment rate, earnings per job, and more in Gunnison County

While the employment sectors in the Gunnison Valley have fluctuated over time, services and retail have historically and continue to dominate. Government and construction also make up significant portions of employment.

 

Jobs in the Gunnison Valley by sector

There are 6,577 households in Gunnison County. Just over 33% of them make less than $35,000 annually and nearly 35% of them make between $35,000 and $75,000. Meanwhile, 4% of households bring in over $150,000. Source: American Fact Finder


Income Number of Households Percentage of Households
Less than $15,000 725 11%
$15,000-$35,000 1,452 22%
$35,000-$75,000 2,350 36%
$75,000-$150,000 1,781 27%
$150,000 or more 269 4%

Poverty

We will build and maintain a culture that enables a sustainable healthy community for everyone in the Gunnison Valley. We believe that meeting the basic needs of our community members, encouraging positive youth development and supporting healthcare access for all is critical for the development of a thriving and prosperous community.

– One Valley Prosperity Project – Guiding Principle for Community Health and Equity

About 15% of our community members live in poverty. Striking as that is, it is a 13% decrease from three years ago. That equates to 2,319 people living in poverty in Gunnison County.

Financial Self-Sufficiency

Financial self-sufficiency describes how much income families need to make ends meet without public or private assistance (like public housing, Medicaid, or child care assistance). The standard is a measure of economic security that is based on the full costs of the following basic needs:

  • housing;
  • healthcare;
  • transportation;
  • child care;
  • food; and
  • taxes.

The measure also includes miscellaneous necessities like clothing, paper products, cleaning products, and personal hygiene products. It demonstrates the amount needed to meet each basic need at a minimally adequate level. The 2015 Federal Poverty Level designates a four-person family to be “poor” with an annual income of $25,100 or less, regardless of where they live or the age of children. However, the self-sufficiency wage in Gunnison County for the same family is $71,960.

In Gunnison County, earnings well above the official Federal Poverty Level are nevertheless far above what is needed to meet families’ basic needs. Source: Colorado Center on Law and Poverty

infographic showing self-sufficiency rates for different family sizes in the Gunnison Valley

5-10-7 Project

As an offshoot of the One Valley Prosperity Strategy, several community groups have come together to tackle an ambitious project called 5-10-7. We aim to grow, retain, attract, or build 5 companies with annual revenues of at least $10 Million in the next 7 years. If we are successful, we project that we could add about 150 jobs with an average salary of $70,000 per year. Our hope is that the 5-10-7 project will help address some of the challenges outlined above and help close that gap between current area median incomes and financial self-sufficiency.

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