Opinion: Kootenai County growing (and graying)

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    LOREN BENOIT/Press A construction crane towers over the Coeur d’Alene skyline as construction continues on the One Lakeside high-rise project on Thursday.

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    LOREN BENOIT/Press A construction crane towers over the Coeur d’Alene skyline as construction continues on the One Lakeside high-rise project on Thursday.

It’s almost an obligation around here to laugh about all our California immigrants.

The subject comes up so often that I thought we ought to take a more serious look at the people who have created this population boom.

We’ll check out some of the migration effects today, then look at a few more tomorrow.

So …

Who are these new residents?

“We aren’t sure how many of the new residents in Kootenai County are retirees,” said Sam Wolkenhauer, regional analyst for the Idaho Department of Labor, “but we do know some things about how old they are.

“Since 2000, roughly 57 percent of the population growth in Kootenai County has been people age 55 and older.

“Our 55-and-older population has grown by about 23,000, and we think it will grow by another 24,000 by the year 2026.

“So an absolute majority of the growth has been either retirees or people for whom retirement is on the near horizon.”

Clearly, our population has been getting older, and will continue to do so.

What are some of the good and not-so-good results from having dramatic growth — with more than half of it consisting of people who are either retired or close to it?

We’ve seen one aspect of this dynamic in the past few days, when the proposed Hayden tax increase was debated. Quite a few older residents claim it would be a hardship on people with fixed incomes.

True.

But Wolkenhauer insists that these newcomers won’t become a financial drag — at least not if we are talking cash in hand.

“It’s people in this age group that have lots of spending power,” he said. Young people are still building their wealth (hopefully), while the Baby Boomers right now are the generation that’s in financial shape to drive consumption in the economy.

“Without a doubt, our construction and real estate activity would be much more subdued without this older cohort moving here. So from a purely economic perspective, we’re extremely fortunate to be a destination where they are choosing to move.”

THERE’S ALSO a balance required, Wolkenhauer explained.

The arrival of younger families with school-age children might provide a spike to the educated workforce — which could help lure tech companies to the area.

Ah, but where will these young newcomers live?

The rental market is squeezed so tightly that landlords can keep raising rents and still remain near full occupancy.

Meanwhile, house prices keep going up, which is fine for affluent migrants like our California retirees — but home ownership is difficult for young families, who hopefully are providing needed balance in our communities.

Here are the cringe-worthy numbers, courtesy of Bloomberg …

“Starter homes are now more costly to purchase than at any time since 2008, when the last boom came to a crashing halt.

“In the second quarter (of 2018), first-time buyers needed almost 23 percent of their income to afford a typical entry-level home — up from 21 percent a year earlier, according to an analysis by the National Association of Realtors.

“The affordability crunch is especially severe at the low end of the market and in hot areas where supplies are tightest and values have risen most. A jump in mortgage rates this year only made it worse.”

HOT AREAS?

That’s us, folks.

Wolkenhauer agrees with the assessment, and again looking for balance, he hopes construction can match demand.

“From my perspective,” he said, “the main problems with an area growing too quickly end up centering on construction.

“Construction is a bottleneck for bringing new services online, especially infrastructure and housing.

“When an area is growing very quickly, especially with new residents who are affluent, it can strain housing markets and infrastructure if the construction sector can’t create new housing quickly enough.”

Even if housing targets are reached, though, will some of the inventory be affordable enough for our population?

All of these problems could be softened, of course, if just ONE company the size of Micron — with nearly 7,000 employees in the Boise area — were to locate in North Idaho.

Heck, even a company half that size.

Whichever way you do the math, however …

This is becoming be a damn expensive place to live when compared to our average or median incomes.

To borrow Walkenhauer’s language, we seem to be out of balance.

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Steve Cameron is a columnist for The Press.

A Brand New Day appears Wednesday through Saturday each week. Steve’s sports column runs on Tuesday.

Email: scameron@cdapress.com.

Twitter:@BrandNewDayCDA

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