Creative solutions emerge in housing talks | PostIndependent.com

Creative solutions emerge in housing talks

HOUSING FORUM

The Post Independent, Carbondale Creative District and Carbondale’s Third Street Center will hold a public housing forum from 6:30-9 p.m. Wednesday at the Third Street Center.

Topics will include housing affordability versus attainability; alternative housing projects; what’s working elsewhere and what’s possible here; and potential next steps. This meeting will focus on the Glenwood to El Jebel area; a similar event is planned for in Rifle in March.

Carbondale could be in a perfect position to get in on a new state initiative aimed at providing affordable housing for artists and others in the “creative industries.”

That term extends to a lot more professions than what people traditionally think of as an artist, says Amy Kimberly, executive director for the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities.

“I would say that about 75 to 80 percent of people here are engaged in a creative industry,” Kimberly said. Add anyone in the design and construction trades, sewing, culinary professions, even teachers, to the list, she said.

Last summer, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper announced the new Space to Create, Colorado program, the first state-driven initiative in the United States to create affordable housing for artists.

The new program aims to develop affordable housing and work space for artists and arts organizations, and position Colorado as the nation’s leader in promoting the arts in rural communities.

“As long as we’re having this discussion, it’s important for the public to see this initiative as not just for artists,” Kimberly said. “This would be perfect for our community, and our whole valley, where there is a high percentage of people in those industries.”

Space to Create, Colorado will select nine projects in eight regions throughout the state, focusing on small, rural towns and mountain communities over the next eight years to build mixed-use projects that provide affordable live/work space for artists and their families. The program also seeks to create commercial space for creative enterprises and arts-oriented organizations.

“Housing and economic development are vital needs in rural Colorado, and the Space to Create initiative advances both of these issues by harnessing the power of the public, private and philanthropic sectors, as well as the creative community, to activate historic spaces and elevate rural economies,” Hickenlooper said in announcing the program last July.

The first demonstration project is already under way in Trinidad. Other regions are being prioritized based on readiness, public will, commitment of local resources and housing demands.

Whether or not Carbondale or a coalition of area communities is selected for one of the projects, it’s a good conversation to have locally in light of the Roaring Fork Valley’s housing crunch, Kimberly said.

It’s a problem that those working in the creative trades know all too well.

“That’s one of the reasons Colorado Creative Industries is leading the initiative,” Kimberly said. “Through the Creative District program, and throughout history really, we’ve noticed that where artists congregate tend to become desirable places, which drives up housing costs, and then the artists get out priced and can’t live there.”

broad discussion

The new state initiative is just one idea that will be on the table when the Carbondale Creative District, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and Third Street Center host the Carbondale Affordable Housing Forum this week.

The event takes place from 6:30-9 p.m. at the Third Street Center. Topics will include: Affordability versus attainability, alternative housing projects such as micro housing and co-housing developments, what has been successful in Colorado and elsewhere, what’s possible here, and next steps.

This particular conversation will be focused on the Glenwood Springs and Carbondale area. Another housing forum co-sponsored by Eagle County is slated for Feb. 11 pertaining to the Basalt/El Jebel area, and plans are in the works for a similar forum in Rifle this spring.

“As a matter of policy going forward, we need to look at all the tools that are out there,” said Clark Anderson, executive director of the new nonprofit Community Builders, who will be one of the panelists at the Wednesday forum.

Inclusionary housing remains one of those tools, but it’s certainly not the only tool any longer, he said of the practice of either having government-run programs to build deed-restricted housing, or requiring developers to do so, in an effort to maintain a stock of affordable housing within the broader mix of housing types.

“We need to understand the full suite of options, and recognize that the solutions may vary from market to market, even here within the Roaring Fork Valley,” Anderson said.

What might work in Aspen or even Carbondale might not work in Glenwood Springs or Rifle, he said.

“One thing I do know is that we need more units, we have so little stock available,” he said. “Right now we have people at higher income levels competing with people at lower income levels for what housing is out there.”

Third Street Center Director Colin Laird, who used to direct the now-defunct Healthy Mountain Communities, said he is glad to see renewed nonprofit involvement around the housing issue.

“No entity can really do it themselves, and we’re going to have to seek out partnerships,” Laird said. “And we can’t really expect local governments to fix the problem through policy alone.”

Employer solutions

Along with the housing crunch another problem is emerging again, as was the case in the years before the Great Recession when the housing issue was at the forefront. That’s a labor shortage.

“Every government entity or anyone who runs a business has employees who need housing but are oftentimes struggling to get into housing,” Laird said.

The recession brought a screeching halt to the Roaring Fork School District’s former plans to line up a developer to build a teacher housing project on district-owned land between the Third Street Center and Bridges High School.

But the problem didn’t go away.

The local district, which includes schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, has now gained national attention for dedicating $15 million of its recent $122 million school construction bond issue to provide subsidized teacher rental housing.

The district is now working on a plan to acquire up to 20 apartments in each of the three communities it serves in order to house about 10 percent of it teachers and other key staff.

“Without a doubt, (the cost of housing) is the number one reason we lose teachers, and it’s the number one reason people turn down jobs,” RFSD Assistant Superintendent Shannon Pelland recently said in a New York Times article about teacher shortages in expensive communities.

The school district is turning to the broader community to help develop its housing plan. Members are being sought for two separate advisory committees, one to work on the purchase and/or construction of housing units, and the other to help determine which employees will qualify for the program and how to administer it.

For many years, local government entities, including the city of Glenwood Springs and town of Carbondale, have also worked with the Fort Collins-based nonprofit Funding Partners for Housing Solutions program to provide down-payment assistance to help employees purchase housing.

“The city provides loans to eligible employees who need help in purchasing their home,” explained Susan Kurk, human resources director, for the city of Glenwood. “Those funds can be used to cover the down payment and closing costs.”

Loans cover up to 18 percent of the home purchase price, or $40,000, whichever is less. The employee is not required to immediately pay back the loan or even make any payments until they leave the city or sell the home. The loan can even be forgiven in part, according to the city’s guidelines.

Similar programs are offered by some private employers who have found it difficult to hire and retain workers due to housing costs.

“When we recruit for any of our professional or licensed positions, we do ask if they have a need for housing and will offer help,” said Daniel Biggs, chief human resources officer for Valley View Hospital.

“We are very honest in the recruiting process and make sure they understand that it can be challenging to find housing here, and that they are going to have to manage their finances accordingly,” Biggs said.

The hospital will also often help new employees get into rental housing by providing some or part of the required first and last month’s rent and security deposits through a special Silver Lining Fund.

And, given the lack of availability that is sometimes the issue, the hospital owns several apartments that can be used for transitional housing until a new employee finds a permanent arrangement.

“The other thing I would say is that we also try to make sure our salary is competitive, and that people are paid a fair wage so they can live here,” Biggs said. “That’s the main thing that helps when it comes to housing.”


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