Forum explores options

Many tools needed to build affordable employee housing

To have lasting employee housing in Routt County, the community needs to have a variety of strategies. At the top of the list is a stable funding source.

Those were the opinions offered at an affordable housing forum sponsored by the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley on Monday.

Telluride City Planner Lance McDonald said that a community's employee housing solution should extend beyond incentives and partnerships with the development community.

"The really big thing, you should try to acquire property," McDonald said. "There is only so much you could get out of the private development side. You should be fair."

Since 1980, Telluride has built more than 1,000 units of affordable housing through a combination of a half-cent sales tax, density incentives for developers and a requirement for all new development to mitigate for affordable housing.

Yampa Valley Housing Authority Director Elizabeth Black and Colorado Division of Housing representative Bill Whaley said local funding was needed.

Whaley, whose office helps administer federal funding, said that federal money is decreasing and that no funds are coming from the state level. Part of the funding, he said, has to come from the local level, at which housing authorities are, by state law, allowed to ask voters to approve taxes to support affordable housing.

"If we are going to continue to address affordable housing seriously, we are going to have to seek other sources -- one of those is a tax issue," Whaley said. "It is a reliable tool."

Black said funding and land are the area's two biggest obstacles for affordable housing.

"We are going to begin discussions with community groups to find out the willingness to fund this," Black said. "Communities that have very active housing programs are communities that have local funding through sales taxes or property taxes."

Monday's forum had four panel speakers, McDonald, Black, Whaley and Rodger Hara, who is with GMAC Commercial Mortgage. After their presentations, more than 30 people broke into groups to discuss what tools should be used for affordable housing.

During the discussion, Whit--ney Ward, a developer who has imposed a voluntary real estate transfer tax on two proposed projects, said the community needs to come to a consensus about what its vision for affordable housing is.

McDonald said Telluride created a goal for 60 percent of its regional work force to be housed in the region. The area is at 55 percent, and meeting the target would mean providing 500 more affordable housing units.

With the ever-increasing cost of housing and available land decreasing, McDonald said, building the last 500 units would be much harder than the first 1,000.

The community established the 60 percent goal in hopes of keeping its community character.

"(City officials) liked how Telluride feels now. The way you walk down the street, go to the post office, see the locals," McDonald said. "What target do you set so that you have that same feeling? Maybe the faces are different, but it's how you feel. At 60 percent, they still felt like it was a community."

McDonald said the town missed some opportunities. It should have bought more land for affordable housing and tried to keep more of its affordable housing stock permanently affordable, he said.

McDonald urged the community to limit the amount of money taken in lieu of building affordable housing, saying the money does not go far to buy land.

"For Telluride, it was really important to get the units constructed and not take the cash," he said.

Members of one breakout group questioned whether Steamboat Springs was too far behind the efforts of towns such as Telluride. McDonald said Steamboat was fortunate to not have to go to the lengths that other communities have had to in building employee housing.

To bring affordable housing to Routt County, Black said, it would take partnership and some unorthodox approaches.

"We have to behave in different ways and really let down our guard and do things in uncomfortable ways to get things done," Black said. "We have to solve the problem ourselves, and we have to get along to get it done."

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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