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Housing group seeks funds

Donna Gray

A nonprofit affordable housing corporation came to the Garfield County commissioners with outstretched hands this week. Mountain Regional Housing Corp. of Carbondale asked commissioners for $20,000 for operating expenses. MRHC offers mortgage and down payment assistance programs in Pitkin, southwest Eagle and Garfield counties. The commissioners took the request under consideration; they will finalize the county budget Monday.MRHC, which was founded in 1993, also develops and administers affordable housing in the valley.Susan Shirley, MRHC executive director, said the corporation offers mortgage loans for people who live or work in the valley who qualify according to their income. MRHC targets people who bring in between 80 and 120 percent of the area median income, or between $33,950 and $50,880 for single people.Area median incomes are used as eligibility criteria based on the assumption that many people in the valley do not make enough money annually to afford average housing prices.The disparity between local wages and local housing prices also has unfortunate social consequences. A significant percentage of the valley population lives in communities where housing is relatively affordable and commutes to work for higher wages than what they could earn in their hometowns.”The average commute is 14 hours a week,” Shirley told the commissioners.MRHC also makes full mortgage loans to qualifying homebuyers at interest rates between one and 6.5 for a period of 33 to 38 years.The company administers one of the area’s first affordable housing projects, Thompson Corner, at River Valley Ranch in Carbondale. When the project was first brought to the Carbondale Town Board in the mid-1990s, citizens attending public hearings called for an affordable housing component to the golf course community and the developer complied.The 60 homes at Thompson Corner are deed restricted, which puts a ceiling on the amount a home’s selling price can increase when it changes hands, keeping prices affordable.MRHC executive director Susan Shirley said 80 percent of the original buyers of the one-, two- and three-bedroom houses now own free market homes.”The system is working,” she said.MRHC partnered in other affordable housing projects including Ullr Commons, a conversion of an older motel complex in Aspen that now offers 26 affordable rental units. It also administers eight deed-restricted ownership units at Keator Grove in Carbondale and 29 rentals at White River Village in Rifle.Shirley said the corporation will also partner with employers to build affordable employee housing.”We can get a lower development rate on pre-development costs and construction loans, between four and six percent,” she said.With federal grants, it can also reduce the costs of individual units by $10,000 to $13,000, she added.Commissioner Larry McCown took Shirley to task for what he saw as discrimination against for-profit developers wishing to build affordable housing.”You’re discriminating two percent on loans (to for-profit developers), which is significant,” he said.While MRHC can offer a four percent interest rate on construction loans for nonprofit developers, the rate jumps to six percent for for-profit developers.”It’s not fair,” McCown said.MRHC president Kay Philip said, “MRHC will partner with anybody. We’re not discriminating against employers. We can tap into all those nonprofit resources. But if they choose to work with a for-profit developer that’s a different story.”Commissioner Trési Houpt praised MRHC’s work in the communities of the valley.”I think you’re filling a tremendous niche in this county and I thank you.”Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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