Shift In Housing Prices Steers Payson In Wrong Direction

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The change happens as quietly as one school teacher packing her belongings into a moving van. She drives away in search of the place she thought she had found when she moved to Payson -- a small town where she could be a member of the community and raise a family.

But Payson is quickly becoming an impossible place for young professionals to get a foothold. The cost of housing has risen steeply in the past decade, while salaries have not.

On Feb. 24, the Payson Roundup published comments by real estate agent Craig Swartwood after he spoke at a forum on the economic factors associated with water and land.

At the time, he warned the residents of Payson that the town is fast becoming unaffordable to the workforce.

To illustrate his point, Swartwood said someone earning $33,500 per year could qualify for a $111,000 mortgage at 6.5 percent interest; someone making $40,000 a year could get a $155,000 mortgage; a dual-income couple, bringing in $60,000 a year could get $220,000 in financing.

With those numbers in mind, Swartwood pointed out that between 2004 and 2005, median home prices in Payson rose from $165,000 to $207,000.

Wages are not rising to meet the growing cost of living. According to the 2000 Census, the median income of Payson is $33,638.

By those figures, an "affordable house" in Payson for someone earning the median income would be less than $120,000.

Anyone who has checked the real estate listings lately knows there is very little available in that price range.

In fact, Swartwood said at the time of the Feb. 24 article, "There is very little land available on which to build a home that would be under $300,000."

Since that article published, discussion has increased among the editorial staff of the Roundup. We are concerned for the well-being of a community that is driving away its work force.

In response, we have begun work on a multiple-part series that takes a look at the causes, effects and possible solutions to what is fast becoming an affordable housing crisis in Payson.

According to the 2000 Census, 51.1 percent of Payson's population is not in the work force. We are more and more a retirement community.

But even an affluent retirement community cannot afford to drive away the work force that keeps the town's infrastructure alive.

As Swartwood said in early February, Payson's biggest concern may not be water, but, rather, the growing scarcity and rising cost of land.

As we research this issue further in the weeks to come, we look forward to any input from the community. We would like to hear your stories and opinions as we search for the solution to this problem together.

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