Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Flagstaff Is A Bigger Version Of Traverse City's Problem

*Disclosure* the reporter for these NPR stories is an old college friend of mine

'Amenity Migrants' Alter Life In Resort Towns
Newcomers like Stone have been flocking to Flagstaff and other picturesque resort and college towns since the 1970s. But in the past decade, their numbers have exploded.

Kenneth Johnson, a senior demographer at the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute, has a name for people like the Stones: "amenity migrants."

"Like many of us, they would say, 'Boy, when I can, I would really like to live in one of these beautiful, scenic areas,'" Johnson said. "And as they get close to retirement, they can fulfill those wishes" — either in full retirement or by working a more flexible schedule...

While other small towns are struggling, these communities are booming. They're growing two to three times faster than other rural areas, even faster than many metro areas. And as the baby boomers retire, Johnson says, the migration will accelerate.

Around Resorts, Boomlet Towns Thrive, Too
Around the country, more Americans are living where they want to, not where they have to. They're making new lives for themselves by the beach, in the mountains, in college towns.

Inevitably, these new residents are changing their new hometowns, making them more expensive places to live. And it can be hard for the original residents to keep up...

"Flagstaff's beautiful," Thomas said. "It's where I wanted to raise my children, it's safe — and ever since I've been back home, it's been very difficult to find a place to live."

That's partly because Flagstaff has been discovered by wealthy second homeowners. And partly because so many of the area's jobs are in tourism and retail, which don't pay very well.

Home prices have more than doubled this decade. Now only about one out of every five families can afford the median price for a house: $350,000.

So Ruth Thomas has done something three of her four siblings did: She and her children moved back in with her parents...

All over the country, newcomers are moving to scenic communities like Flagstaff, helping to drive up housing costs. Many of the towns are trying desperately to create more affordable housing. For instance, Aspen, Colo., now requires developers to make 60 percent of new homes affordable to lower-income buyers.

But these efforts simply can't keep up with the demand. And it's not just day care workers, teachers and firefighters who are squeezed out of the housing market in Flagstaff — medical professionals and college professors can't afford it, either.

Direct link to the Carsey Institute report: Demographic Trends in National Forest Counties (PDF)