Reasons behind the thin availability are multifaceted, but experts point to tougher post-recession mortgage lending regulations that push those with poor credit and low income to the rental market. As a result there are more people looking for leases within a certain price point, resulting in fewer properties to accommodate them.
Tim Singleton, broker/owner of 4 Corners Properties, observed the pinch in demand beginning around 2008 and 2009, the height of the recession.
Singleton says that today, he sees strong interest from prospective renters and notes that availability is low, but doesn't believe it's a major problem quite yet.
4 Corners Properties manages about 100 properties around the county, and usually only sees about two or three vacancies at a time depending on the season.
"I'm not sure it's super bad; I think we're matching up right now," said Singleton.
Betty Cirbes, director of leasing for Cortez-based XTROV Realty agrees that availability os extremely thin. "Finding suitable housing that is reasonably priced is very difficult," said Cirbes. Cirbes and XTROV broker/owner Katherine Chaffin contend that it is especially hard for renters looking for properties at or under $800 per month.
"If we get an opening (in that price range), we fill it pretty soon," said Chaffin.
Singleton wonders if the problem is more of an affordability one for renters, rather than a lack of properties on the market.
"A lot of times in our area, we're low-income, people may not make enough to afford the house they want," he noted.
The financial standard is that monthly rent is affordable when it is 30 percent or less of an individual or household's income. Average rental prices in Montezuma County are comparatively lower than nearby counties, but so are wages. According to the most recent data available from Region 9 Economic Development District, the average annual per capita income in Montezuma County is $36,524 compared with the state average of $46,897.
That means that a Montezuma County renter making $2,809 a month would need to pay around $825 a month or less in order for rent to be considered affordable.
A study released last month from the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies found that about half of U.S. renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, up from 18 percent a decade ago.
Between 2000 and 2012, real median rents rose nationwide by 6 percent, but the real median income of renters fell by 13 percent.
Aside from the private rental market, the county's low-income public housing options are also strained. The Montezuma County Housing Authority explained to county commissioners last month that there are 235 families and individuals on the affordable housing waiting list and not enough units to accommodate them.
The organization oversees 501 subsidized housing units, and they are all full. In response, MCHA, along with the Piñon Project and the Bridge Emergency Shelter, are working together to establish additional subsidized rental units to serve individuals and families in need.
In the meantime, a possible solution for the private market, property managers say, is putting long-vacant and for-sale homes on the rental market while the owner waits for a buyer.
"We have a plethora of homes for sale, many that have been on the market for a long time, that we would love to see come aboard the property management size where we're renting the home in the interim while the owner is waiting for a sale," said Chaffin of XTROV.