Affordable housing, for sale and rent, severely lacking
CARBONDALE – Although the tools to make housing more affordable and available to the valley’s middle class are in hand, they’re not being used.”We need to pull the pieces together,” Susan Shirley, executive director of Mountain Regional Housing Corp. (MRHC) in Carbondale, told a meeting of regional planners and local officials in Carbondale last week.While county government has zoning provisions in place to encourage affordable housing in planned subdivisions, developers have not stepped up to the plate.Currently, the county has 19 deed-restricted housing units, which have caps in place to keep resale prices affordable, compared to Pitkin County, which has approximately 2,500 affordable housing units, said county long range planner Randy Russell.But what the county needs more than affordable homes for sale is rentals, Russell added. While Glenwood Springs and Carbondale have seen rentals built within their limits, there is a lack in the county.”We are not building rentals,” Russell said. “There have been zero built in (the unincorporated parts of) the county in the last six or seven years. … We are going to face a rental crisis” if something is not done, he added. “We are going to have to have a come-to-Jesus meeting between the municipalities and the county over (who does their) fair share.”County housing authority director Geneva Powell said that while federal money is available to help people pay their rent, the problem is finding rentals in the valley.Shirley also pointed out that developers are not including enough affordable housing in their developments.MRHC offers mortgage and down-payment assistance programs in Pitkin, southwest Eagle and Garfield counties. Founded in 1993, it also develops and administers affordable housing in the valley.”The free market will not and has not produced the housing we need” and will not do so unless they’re forced into it, she said.Other social and economic factors are also at play in the valley that have given the housing problem a sense of urgency in the past couple of years. Shirley said the valley’s middle class is fast disappearing. Middle class is defined as people who can meet their expenses with little or nothing left over to save. The high cost of housing eats into their income and forces many if not most to live a long distance from where they work, in places where housing is more affordable.Increasingly more people who buy homes are also seeing their homes go into foreclosure because they cannot afford to make their mortgage payments.”Colorado is the highest state in the U.S. for foreclosures, and the least regulated in banking,” Shirley said.Employers, who are having a difficult time recruiting and retaining employees, “will have to come in in some financial way” to secure affordable housing, she said.MRHC is in the process of developing an affordable housing project in Carbondale, Keator Grove, which has long been on the books but yet to get off the ground. Shirley said her group is now approaching the larger employers in the valley to commit to buying some of the housing.The Garfield County Commissioners are set to discuss present and future policy for affordable housing Monday, July 10, at the county administration building in Glenwood Springs.
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