When the Payson Roundup embarked on this six-week journey to examine affordable housing in Payson, we did not know what we would find. The whole thing started after we heard a set of numbers presented at an afternoon lecture. The numbers told of skyrocketing housing prices and we couldn't help but wonder how it might be impacting our lower- to moderate-income residents.
We could never have imagined what a blow rising housing costs have dealt our work force and, by extension, our economy and social fabric.
We learned that a worker in Payson must make as much as $22.69 an hour in order to buy a home costing $163,000 -- which represents the "affordable" end of the current Payson housing market. We also learned that very few workers in Payson meet that income requirement.
We learned that while housing prices have risen dramatically in recent years, wages have not.
The discrepancy is driving police, firefighters, teachers, nurses and other vital workers away from our community to places with more affordable housing or with wages that match the housing market.
We also learned that this is not only a struggle of our work force, but a real crisis for many retired seniors living on a fixed income. Initially when we chose to look into the role retirees play in this problem, we expected to find a town full of wealthy seniors who could pay anything for a house. We expected to find a villain for our story -- a place to point the blame. Instead, we found elderly people losing their homes, forced to move into rental units by the changing real estate market.
After five weeks of this series on affordable housing, our hearts are filled with compassion and our minds are filled with dread for the future of Payson if something is not done.
At Thursday night's Payson High School graduation ceremony, senior Darryl DeWeese made an ominous comment in his commencement speech. To paraphrase, he said, it's hard to tell if there are more students graduating or more teachers leaving this year. The audience laughed, but his statement rang true. We believe Payson is only just beginning to see the consequences of pricing out its work force.
While this was a research project for our staff, we hope that it becomes more than a few hours of reading material for this community.
On Tuesday, May 30, at 5:30 p.m. we invite the public to attend a community round table on affordable housing, hosted by the Roundup, in the Payson Public Library meeting room.
As our series title "Affordable Housing: Crisis or Catch Phrase" implies, many talk about affordable housing, but few take the necessary steps to make it happen. Affordable housing takes financial sacrifice that towns and developers may not be willing to make. It takes time and planning. As a newspaper, all we can do is point to the crisis. Now, it's your turn.
We hope that community leaders will attend our round table, that a dialogue will begin, and that dialogue will lead to action.