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  • Jena Skinner, AICP

I just work here. The misunderstanding of being a planner.

Recently, I was successful in getting a new neighborhood approved in a small town in Colorado. My team was excellent, and we did everything we could do to create homes aimed at locals, not second homeowners.


During the entitlement process, COVID hit. No one expected how a global pandemic would affect our communities. I had realtor friends who battened down the hatches, preparing for a tough year. The opposite happened, though, and no one saw it coming.


I'm sure by now you are acutely aware that housing prices jumped 80-200%, depending on where you live. Wages did not, further separating the people from owning a new home. I wish I had a wand to fix things and set things back where they were (2019), but hay would be scarce if wishes were horses. The problem? Capitalism and an unregulated housing market. Sellers are dancing at the prospect of wealthy buyers taking up available inventory at inflated prices. Of course, that leaves low to average wage earners in the dust, some living in tents, closets, cars, and all in duress.



Sadly, 2021 is affecting my new neighborhood. Sale prices are coming in much higher than we expected pre-pandemic. Building materials have skyrocketed, and labor is too thin. These are things out of our control, of course. We are still fighting to offer an attainable product to locals, but man, it will be more challenging than pre-pandemic without people receiving help from the government or a non-profit (via wage increases, grants, or as investors). If you are lucky, maybe you'll find a bag of money on the side of the road, or you have help from family to offset costs. Otherwise, it's going to be tough to buy a home moving forward.


Down payment assistance is helpful, but you have to pay it back as a loan, not a grant. This additional loan adds to overhead, which also is concerning about keeping one's head above water. I don't know the answers, but I feel it's safe to say that more has to be done by our leaders.


I work hard to serve the needs of my community and my clients. I am just the messenger, and if I could do more if I would. So when you feel angry at 2021, don't blame the planner. There are so many things outside of our control. You are blaming the wrong industry. Blame the market that solely uses sale prices to set upcoming for-sale prices. Blame the land speculators that are the only ones genuinely profiting from development. Blame capitalism as the foundation of what is happening around us. Just don't blame planners. We don't have any power or authority over what happens. That's the politician's wheelhouse, which uses pre-pandemic codes that make low-density luxury easy to get done on top of those freaking expensive land costs. In the words of Goyte, "Don't ask me, I just work here man."


https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2019/3/19/thank-you-from-a-land-speculator

https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2020/9/15/6-things-to-know-about-development