Garfield County not quite ready to join regional housing coalition
Garfield County commissioners are split on whether to join a regional nonprofit housing coalition that could prove crucial in obtaining state grants and loans aimed at addressing housing needs across Colorado.
Several Roaring Fork Valley governments have already agreed to support the new Greater Roaring Fork Valley Housing Coalition, including $10,000 each in seed money.
Among them are the city of Glenwood Springs and the town of Carbondale in Garfield County, as well as Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County.
Garfield County’s support would send a message that the intergovernmental cooperation needed to address the lack of affordable housing extends beyond the Roaring Fork Valley proper, David Myler, who chairs the housing coalition organizing committee, said during the Monday county commissioners meeting in Glenwood Springs.
A coordinated, regional effort is the best way to create the kinds of public-private partnerships necessary to produce more affordable housing for a regional workforce that is stressed, Myler said.
“This is a way for us to come up with the solutions to the problems we’ve been looking at for a long time,” he said. “The coalition can help in accomplishing that directive.”
But the idea of Garfield County being party to that effort was met with a resounding “no” from Commission Chairman John Martin.
“This is a problem that’s driven by a class system in Aspen on down,” Martin said. “Regionalism is a nice idea, but what I’ve seen from Pitkin County is, ‘We’ll take the glory and, Garfield County, you pay the bill.’
“We cannot continue to cater to the elite in Aspen and Pitkin County,” he said.
Martin and fellow Commissioner Mike Samson of Rifle suggested that the problem stems from the Aspen and Pitkin County workforce not being able to afford to live where they work.
However, Samson was more open to the idea of joining the housing coalition, if the western Garfield County towns of New Castle, Silt, Rifle and Parachute agree to participate.
“I’ve said it a zillion times, Pitkin County and Aspen need to get housing for their workers so they don’t have to (rely on) people living west of Glenwood Springs,” Samson said.
He acknowledged, though, that housing affordability “is only getting worse” and isn’t limited to Pitkin County and eastern Garfield County any longer.
“It’s critical that you get these other communities in Garfield County on board,” Samson said, noting his involvement in helping to bring Parachute and Battlement Mesa together for a series of upcoming town hall meetings to discuss issues including housing needs.
As for the housing coalition, Samson wondered what future financial obligations would be necessary to sustain the organization beyond the initial $10,000 in start-up funds. With declining county revenues related to the drop in oil and gas activity, Garfield County may not be in a position to continue that support, he said.
Myler acknowledged future funding would be needed to pay an expert staff to put the various housing partnerships together. But the coalition itself would not be in the development business, he said.
“Housing does need to be matched up with where people work,” Myler also stated in answer to Samson and Martin’s concerns.
“We’re not trying to change a way of life if people love living in Rifle and working in Aspen … but the objective should be to create housing closer to where people work.”
The organizing committee has been in talks with the western Garfield County municipalities and hopes to have at least some of them on board, Myler said.
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky was inclined to join the coalition now, though he said he also has concerns about government involvement in housing development.
“That’s against what I stand for, and I think that belongs in the private sector,” he said.
Regarding the regional housing coalition, though, “I think we should be at the table so we’re not dinner.”
Jankovsky’s motion to put up the $10,000 in seed money and sign the Letter of Intent to join the coalition died for lack of a second.
He and Samson offered that they would be open to reconsider in the near future. Jankovsky also said he would agree to sign a letter of support for any state housing grants or loan requests.
The state of Colorado, through the Department of Local Affairs, is preparing to make some $450 million in housing funds from the American Rescue Plan Act available for affordable housing projects.
Regional coalitions will be viewed more favorably in the competitive process to obtain those funds, said Gail Schwartz, president of Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley, who attended the Monday meeting with the Garfield County commissioners via Zoom.
“If we can speak with one voice we will be more competitive with these grants at the state level,” she said, adding the county’s participation would “give voice” to the communities in the Colorado River Valley, whether they join the coalition or not.
Commissioner Martin said that any regional effort should be broadened to include the Eagle River Valley and some of the outlying areas of Pitkin County. But the long-term costs are a concern, he said.
“We can’t sustain it once that nice, free government money is gone,” Martin said. “We can continue to talk, but it’s going to be a mountain for me.”
Pitkin County Manager John Peacock also joined the Monday meeting via Zoom. He reiterated Schwartz’s point about competition for the state funding, especially when up against Front Range interests.
“We do hope that in the future we have the important voice that you would bring to the regional table,” Peacock said to the downvalley commissioners. “We need to be set up to compete appropriately with the urban areas of the state, so we get our fair share.”
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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