Garfield commissioner candidates address county’s housing needs
Garfield County’s hot housing market has a noticeable gap when it comes to an adequate inventory of homes for median income earners to buy or rent, and even fewer options for lower-income families.
How to address that shortfall was a topic of questioning at last week’s Garfield County commissioner candidates forum sponsored by the Glenwood Springs Association of Realtors.
Responses from the candidates ran the gamut from pursuing government partnerships with private developers to bring more affordable housing to the county to offering developer incentives and working with low-income housing developers.
Asked about their impression of the current housing market and what ways they would work to affect that, incumbents and challengers alike were all well aware of the situation.
“The market is strong, and if you need to sell a house this is the perfect time to sell,” District 3 Commissioner Mike Samson said.
But cost and availability for the middle income categories continues to be a problem, especially on the east end of the county but also impacting west-end buyers, Samson said.
“We’ve been involved with a lot of things as a county, CHFA being one of them,” he said of the Colorado Housing Finance Authority, which helps buyers secure loans.
Samson noted that he was the one to urge fellow Commissioners John Martin and Tom Jankovsky to participate in a regional housing needs assessment that was completed a couple of years ago.
“It told us that we need to work more extensively to make it possible for people to afford housing,” Samson said. “And not just single-family housing, but all kinds of housing.”
Samson’s opponent on the Nov. 3 ballot, Leslie Robinson, noted that the COVID restrictions on businesses took a lot of people out of their offices and into their homes to conduct business.
“Working remotely is not only productive, but cost effective,” Robinson said. “I predict we are going to get slammed by home buyers as a result.”
That will put pressure on would-be local buyers, who may not have the same level of income to compete with the higher price points resulting from that, she said.
“Like some of our neighboring counties, we need to look at public-private partnerships,” Robinson said. “We need more inventory of homes under $300,000. That can be done with government and private enterprise working together.
“Silt has been experimenting with small homes, and that can be appealing to individuals, but it’s not a housing solution for families,” she said, also adding that short-term vacation rentals are removing some homes from the rental market.
Transmisión en español: Puede encontrar una traducción al español en tiempo real en Zoom.
When: 5 p.m. Thursday
Who: Candidates for Garfield County commissioner, state House District 57, state Senate District 8 and state Board of Education; plus information on several state and local ballot questions.
The forum is presented by the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, Glenwood Springs Post Independent and Colorado West Broadcasting (KMTS). The event will be recorded and translated in Spanish.
Submit candidate questions in advance here.
District 2 incumbent Commissioner John Martin rattled off a few statistics, saying that with approximately 22,000 housing units in the county, a population of around 60,000, a growth rate of 1.4%, average household income of about $74,000 and an average home price of $350,000, it is a concern.
The county commissioners have built certain provisions and incentives into the county’s comprehensive plan and land-use development code “giving affordable housing units priority,” he said.
“We also encourage large rentals or development of 100 or more homes to be located within municipalities, or extremely close to those areas, simply because of the cost of utilities and also transportation costs,” Martin said.
“We want to work with the cities to make sure the green space, those areas between municipalities, are not filled up with that kind of development,” he said. “That can be a very challenging position to take.”
District 2 challengers Beatriz Soto and Brian Bark said the county’s incentives haven’t done enough.
“We continue to have very low inventory, especially attainable housing for middle-class families and entry-level homebuyers,” Soto said.
An influx of cash purchases during the COVID crisis hasn’t helped matters for locals, she said.
“That is pushing out opportunities for people who live here locally to go through traditional means to buy a home, because cash offers usually go faster,” Soto said. “We are going to need to continue to promote more housing, but it has to be smart growth … building denser and closer to the municipalities.”
Bark was unable to answer the question directly during the Zoom video forum due to internet problems, but provided a response in a follow-up email to the Post Independent.
It’s a matter of finding ways to build lower-cost houses, or increasing wages, Bark said.
“Apparently, the county is already offering incentives and bonuses to developers, but that doesn’t seem to be working,” adding that it’s not solely the job of elected officials to address the affordable housing issue.
“It’s not a how can I, it’s a how can we (affect housing),” Bark said. “I can bring ideas to the table, and we as the board will work on those ideas.
“Again, it goes back to economics,” he said. “We need to bring to Garfield County higher paying, stable sources of revenue. Currently, the higher paying jobs are going to skilled workers or those in a declining industry. These people don’t seem to be having a hard time purchasing higher costing homes.
“We need to bring in higher paying jobs for the unskilled/ semi-skilled workers where they can make a decent wage and have room for advancement within that company or field. … We as the Board of Commissioners need to actively seek out those businesses to move to Garfield County, rather than wait for them to find us.”
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