Sometimes puff but mostly rough, it seems these days that everything’s falling apart. Turn on the news, browse the web, or scroll through twitter and you’re sure to come across media that fills your brain with hazardous waste, leaves you feeling disenfranchised and as an apparant antidote offers nothing but vapid platitudes. Some might say it’s a shame, many will ignore it but I say it's a God-damned travesty, or as I will refer to it in this column, a God-damned Travis D.
Rise of the Remote:
The Pandemic has made it easier than ever to work remotely. Transplants with remote jobs are buying up precious real estate causing rent prices to increase.
From the idyllic snow-capped peaks, which nurture the rushing rapids of the Animas river, to sandstone etched by the stamp of time, bellows a sort of call to arms to those endowed with a sense of adventure to enroll at Fort Lewis College. While many of these adventure seekers topple 14ers and clamber rock walls with ease, a formidable pass to summit is the steep cost of rent in Durango.
A daunting foe, if not successfully scaled, hinders students’ ability to secure adequate and affordable housing. For students who work while in college, unaffordable rent costs increase the precarity of their lives. A bigger financial burden increases the hours they must work to make rent, adds undue stress and takes away from what’s actually important, their education.
According to Fort Lewis Colleges’ credit-hour-statement, students are expected to study at least two hours per week for each credit hour taken.
For a three credit class, this equates to a minimum of six hours of out of class work, plus three hours of faculty instruction per week.
A student must take a minimum of 12-credits per semester to be considered full-time and to qualify for financial aid. This adds up to 36 hours per week, which is roughly equivalent to a full-time job.
The extra hours a part-time job adds to a student’s schedule should take no stretch of the imagination to recognize the plight that is the work/school dilemma.
While a perpetual motion machine would be revolutionary, the perpetual weekly grind is a device for grey hair and nail biting stress. Eventually the incessant demands of the work/school dilemma conjure fantasizes of returning to a simpler time. By midterms that fantasy is undoubtedly preschool nap time. Juice box anyone?
“If I had to work more, it would be hard for me to maintain my GPA to continue to qualify for FASFA,” Aurora Campbell, FLC Environmental Studies major said.
On top of maintaining a good GPA, every student has heard the old adage, “college is the best 4 years of your life,” indicating that a student's social life is a vital feature in creating the coveted college experience. Most students have that one story: “Man, one time freshman year… insert debaucherous detail...”
With low wages and rising rent costs, the opportunity to make friends and craft that best-selling freshmen year narrative with epic prose becomes less and less of a possibility the more shifts one has to pick up to make that obligatory first of the month payment.
Searching for a place to rent can be difficult for anyone, but as FLC Freshman Hannah Paetzal has experienced preparing to leave the dorms and seeking to rent that first place to call her own seems downright impossible.
Apartment complexes in town brand themselves as student friendly, but friendly is a matter of opinion.
“What's so friendly about $1200 a month for a studio apartment?” Paetzal, FLC Entrepreneurial and Small Business major, said.
Prerequisites may be required for entrance to upper-level classes, but a requisite conducive to success sacrificed to “beating the clock” is a healthy mind. The lack of “me” time takes a toll and can affect the well-being of anyone.
“I think I would just be doing better mentally if I could not have to worry about high rent costs and how I’m gonna pay that,” Paetzal said. “How am I going to pay a grand a month?”
A living wage for a single adult working full time in La Plata County, calculated by Region 9 Economic Development District of SW Colorado as of January 2020, is $13.25 per hour. Compiling basic goods and services using costs drawn from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditures Survey and adding the cost of rent is how living expenses are estimated.
The Region 9 Economic Development District report includes expenses that not all students will have, such as the cost of maintaining a vehicle and health care. Also included in the Consumer Expenditures Survey is utilities, food, entertainment, personal care products, taxes and miscellaneous expenditures which are subjective.
Working full time while taking 12 credits amounts to roughly 76 hours of work per week which makes one wonder, “Are there even enough hours in the day?”
“And then my phone bill, car insurance and basic living costs,” Paetzal said. “It's just they expect us to do all of this. I don’t have enough time in the day to be able to work and go to school as much as I need to be able to afford everything.”
Zoom to Oblivion:
Lurking in the great expanse of the internet scrolling Zillow listings, applying for privileged bank loans and salivating at real estate porn reveals every local’s arch nemesis, the abominable out-of-state yuppie, who poses a real threat for college students in their quest for affordable housing.
Given license to gentrify from the COVID-19 pandemic, destigmatizing remote work and giving credence to its viability presents a new contributing force in Durango’s rising rent costs, Durango real estate agent Lisa Govreau said, who has been working in Durango real estate since 2003.
The COVID-19 pandemic has amended the once thought inexorable requirement to commute to work, allowing the possibility to work from home, with the emergence of video communication technologies like Zoom.
Accorded the privilege of this technology is veritably granted to the Professional Managerial Class (PMC). The PMC is a group of middle-class professionals defined by their business qualifications and university degrees with occupations such as engineers, mid-level manager, and academics.
With the attractions of city life dwindling and the requirement of collaborating in an office building no longer necessary, those who can are migrating. One such place is Durango. These so-called “COVID-refugees,” are the newest cause of rising housing costs in Durango, Govreau said.
Major cities such as NYC, San Francisco, Seattle and Boston are among the places people are moving from, according to U-Haul’s annual review. With the attractions and social gatherings cities have to offer occurring less frequently and the symptom of cabin fever being attributed to an extended quarantine, people have begun to rethink their living situations Govreau, said.
Already an increasing trend since 2018, the remote work revolution has been accelerated by the pandemic, according to a survey from Enterprise Technology Research.
On April 27, the city of Durango lifted restrictions for real estate agents to begin showing properties in person after the COVID-19 lockdown.
“It was like a flood gate opened with people fleeing the big cities to look at real estate in Durango and the surrounding areas,” Govreau said.
Most of the new buyers and people making offers on Durango real estate since April 2020 are remote workers from out of state with intentions of making an investment or buying a primary home for them and their family, Govreau said.
Amenity migration, according to social scientists Jan G. Laitos and Heidi Ruckriegle, involves people moving to desirable places for non-economic reasons. They rely on outside sources of income such as cash from selling a home in another market, salaries from outside of Durango, or investment earnings to buy into the community.
Durango has long relied on amenity migration and tourism to fuel its economy, according to the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy. The report provides economic and demographic profiles to address various aspects of economic development in La Plata County.
Durango’s vast outdoor amenities have attracted people from around the world to vacation and now, due to this new trend, relocate without needing to find a job in the Durango job market.
During the last few months of 2020, the median price for a home in Durango increased more than 40%, according to an article in The Durango Herald. On top of this, active listings for homes are down 76% since 2020, meaning there is a very short supply of available housing which drives up the cost, Govreau said.
“You have so many outside people coming in with cash,” Govreau said. “That doesn’t feel good, because all of the essential workers that have helped make this town will never be able to buy a house when you’re competing with that kind of money.”
Home ownership may be a goal after graduation but the effects of an always rising housing market inevitably leads to higher rent prices which affects college students now.
Affordable housing is a state-wide issue, and the newly afforded opportunity of remote work is another addition to that equation.
Attempts at addressing the cost of living cannot be determined by the market and for affordable housing to manifest into reality subsidies must be utilized, Mark Williams, a planner for the City of Durango, said.
If this trend of high-earning remote-workers moving to Durango continues, competing college students who often rely on low wages are posed with a fight they may not be able to win.
The future of Durango requires highly skilled and morally intelligent citizens capable of critical thinking. We need to do everything we can to encourage talent to flourish, which includes affording eager learners a proper home.
What is at stake is not just FLCs students’ futures, but Durango’s vitality and character as a community at whole.