What happens to the cost of living and property taxes in communities around resort real estate developments similar to the proposed ski resort on Lolo Peak?
Most workers employed in lower wage jobs without benefits cannot afford to live near those jobs since the cost of living in resort counties are 700% to 300% higher when compared to a benchmark community. The price of a detached single family home in Pitkin County, Colorado (home of Aspen) increased by more than 100% between 2001 and 2004.
‘Second’ homes for out-of-state, wealthy individuals are extremely expensive, often over $500,000. The cost of land surrounding them then rises above what regular working people can afford. As the number of second homes increases there is an increased need for more workers for the low wage, unskilled jobs in maintaining them. This subsequent rise in property values and housing costs make it impossible for workers to live within a reasonable distance of their place of work. High-end real estate developments at destination resorts drive up local property values and taxes making homes for average workers unaffordable.
Higher house prices and property taxes spread to non-resort communities. The cost of living in worker ‘bedroom’ communities located outside resort counties - communities that workers commute to their jobs from - are 40% to 100% higher when compared to other communities.
Land and housing prices in Whitefish, Montana have increased far beyond the affordability to working families. Workers at the Big Mountain resort real estate development cannot afford the $160,000 to $350,000 for lots in Whitefish much less the additional cost of a house. Resort wages of $10 per hour or less barely put working families above the poverty level and do not provide anywhere near enough income to allow the workers to live in Whitefish or near the resort.
The economics of high-end second homes for the wealthy pump up land and housing prices out of reach for the average family. Higher land prices from real estate developments like Bitterroot Valley’s ‘The Stock Farm’—where ‘cabins’ sell for $800,000 or more - have already pushed the cost of home sites out of reach for working families in the Bitterroot Valley.
Freeway and interstate access usually accompany resort real estate developments like the proposed Bitterroot Ski Resort. Convenient road access from nearby airports is a standard selling point to wealthy, out-of-state buyers of the second or third trophy homes. Existing highways and secondary roads feeding into the proposed Bitterroot Ski Resort will most likely need to be upgraded to provide easy access for private jet and commercial airplane clients to be whisked straight away to their exclusive, gated communities at and around the resort real estate development.
Montana taxpayers would most likely bear some of the costs for the road upgrades. Local rural neighborhoods such as the Target Range area in Missoula or the Lolo community to the south for example, may see bypass limited access roads or expressways put through their area between the Missoula Airport and the resort real estate development in order to provide a faster bypass around Reserve Street. Upgrades and bypasses around business districts along Highway 93 for clients arriving by private jet at the Hamilton Airport may also be required imposing another potential cost on Western Montana taxpayers.
Western Montana taxpayers will also most likely have to cover some of the investment costs in water treatment plants for sewage from the 2200 homes planned for the Bitterroot Ski Resort real estate development. Additional high-end real estate development near the resort will also increase the demand for water treatment investments.
Social services such as community healthy clinics and income-food support programs may need to be expanded to deal with an influx of low-skilled workers from outside the Bitterroot-Missoula area. Low wage, seasonal jobs in Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming resort real estate developments and in Whitefish, Montana have forced workers and their families to seek social services in order to survive throughout the year.
The Missoula and Bitterroot areas are not depressed economies. Both areas have experienced strong job and labor income growth in recent years although middle income families still work hard to make ends meet. The low wage jobs, many without benefits like health insurance and the unaffordable housing and land prices generated by a resort real estate development will not help working families achieve economic sufficiency.
Missoula County was ranked #7 on the basis of employment growth in 50 peer western regions. Missoula’s +40% employment growth placed it higher than many peer communities in surrounding states such as Bellingham, WA, Idaho Falls, Id, Casper, WY, Bismarck, ND, Lewiston-Pullman, ID/WA. Missoula and Ravalli Counties have shown strong employment growth in business and health services. Employment in the Bitterroot Valley grew by 10% between 2000 and 2003 and labor income has been growing at +6% annually, a rate higher than many other counties throughout Montana. The percent of the workforce unemployed in Missoula and Ravalli Counties has been low and is currently below national unemployment rates.
Friends of Lolo Peak, P.O. Box 7444, Missoula, MT 59807
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