Basalt council divided on how much housing developers must provide
The Aspen Times
HOUSING UNDER CONSTRUCTION AT WILLITS
The good news on the Basalt affordable housing front is that the first project to be completed in several years by the public or private sector is expected to be completed in Willits Town Center in December 2016.
The bad news is the anticipated rents for the one- and two-bedroom units are considerably higher than the median price for free-market units in Colorado.
Willits Town Center developer Mariner Real Estate Management broke ground last month on a building that will include 50 apartments. The site is west or downvalley of the Elements Hotel, which is opening in December.
The project includes 26 one-bedroom apartments that will rent for $1,489 per month and 22 two-bedroom units that will rent for $1,580 per month. There are two three-bedroom units that will rent for $1,666. The rents include $114 per month for one space per unit in an underground parking garage associated with the project.
The town of Basalt is contributing $500,000 to the project out of a fund generated by a Real Estate Transfer Assessment on real estate sales in Willits.
The deed-restricted units at Willits will be considerably more expansive than the median price of apartments in Colorado, according to a company called apartmentlist.com, which tracks rents across the county. The median price for one-bedroom units in Colorado was $1,030 in September. The median price for two bedrooms units was $1,280.
The affordable housing at Willits is about the same price as the average free-market two-bedroom unit in Denver, which went for $1,530 per month in September, according to apartmentlist.com.
Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said the Town Council should revisit the rents “so we know exactly what we are putting out there for our money.”
“Off the cuff, it sounds like the one-bedroom is challenging for anyone to rent,” she said.
The town might be powerless to change the rents, she noted. That appears to be the case. The Basalt Town Council approved amendments to the Willits Town Center approvals in 2010 that spelled out the rents. The approvals said that the rents will be an average between the town’s Category 2 and Category 3 rates, which are the middle and high rates in the town’s affordable housing code.
Individuals and households that fall in category 2 earn between 81 to 120 percent of the Area Median Income. Category 3 is 121 to 150 percent of the Area Median Income.
“When you average them per the Willits approvals you are looking at individuals and families not making more than approximately 120 percent of AMI,” Basalt Assistant Planning Director James Lindt wrote in an email. “You are looking at maximum incomes in the $70,000 to $80,000 realm depending on the size of the family applying for a unit.”
The Basalt Town Council is united on the need for more affordable housing but divided on how much to require from developers of new projects.
The council was unable to agree Tuesday night on whether to change its affordable-housing requirements for commercial and residential projects. That stalled the direction the council started heading Sept. 29 when the board voted, 5-2, to approve an ordinance to decrease the affordable-housing requirement on a residential project from 35 to 25 percent of total floor area. The ordinance also called on dropping the affordable-housing requirement on commercial projects from 25 to 15 percent of employees generated.
The ordinance required two readings to go into effect, but the council members’ opinions were all over the board Tuesday on the second reading.
Councilman Herschel Ross said he wanted to stick with the lower requirements as approved two weeks prior. He said that at first blush it might appear odd to be lowering the requirements at a time when there is a severe shortage of affordable housing.
“It seems counterintuitive,” he said.
In reality, lowering the requirement would make it easier for developers to pursue projects and, therefore, provide housing, Ross said.
Councilman Bernie Grauer proposed reducing the requirements further by giving developers an option to provide less housing if they agree to apply real estate transfer assessments to their projects. The assessments on sales of real estate would generate money for new affordable housing.
Grauer argued that lower mitigation rates are needed in Basalt because homebuyers and developers aren’t willing to pay any price to acquire a house or build them like they are in Aspen.
“We have been coupled to the Aspen model indefinitely,” Grauer said. He said Basalt has to “decouple” its requirements from Aspen and tailor rates that better reflect midvalley conditions.
“You can’t ask a new developer to solve a problem that’s already existed,” Grauer said. “That’s a community problem.”
Councilman Rob Leavitt countered that Basalt cannot lower its affordable-housing requirements so much that the affordable-housing shortage becomes even more acute.
“We don’t have to exacerbate the problem, either,” he said.
Mayor Jacque Whitsitt complained that governments are often behind the times. A good case could be made to lower the affordable-housing requirements during the recession because development was economically challenging, she said. Now, developers are cranking up again. Basalt shouldn’t write rules that encourage even more growth, Whitsitt argued.
“Why in the world would we be reducing requirements for developers?” she asked. “We’re out of sync again.”
“This is about getting more development, not about getting affordable housing,” she added later.
Whitsitt said the town should leave the mitigation rates alone and focus on finding partners to develop affordable-housing projects on town-owned land.
A study released by a town consultant in March said Basalt must build 200 affordable-housing units in the next five years to meet demand.
Councilman Rick Stevens said infrastructure is in place to support growth. The town needs to stop making it so tough for developers to build, he said. Stevens said he knows firsthand from his sons that the younger generation is frustrated about the lack of housing to purchase.
The council discussed the possibility during a budget work session earlier Tuesday of placing a question on a future ballot seeking a sales tax increase to raise funds to build affordable housing and provide day care. No specific ballot was targeted.
The council couldn’t resolve what to do with its housing-mitigation rate on new development. It voted to resume the discussion in a future work session.
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