Model project in Basalt could provide teacher housing
The Aspen Times
A potential partnership between a nonprofit and government could produce 40 affordable housing units in Basalt that would be sold to teachers and other people trying to gain a toehold in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork wants to build 20 duplexes on land owned by the Roaring Fork School District on a bench above Basalt High School. The concept is the school district would provide the land and Habitat would raise the funds for construction, according to Scott Gilbert, president of the Habitat chapter.
Gilbert said about half of the for-sale units would be reserved for teachers because of the school district’s contribution of the land. The other units would go to people who qualify under Habitat’s normal needs assessment.
“Habitat is always associated with the word poverty,” Gilbert said. But the organization’s mission is slightly different in the Roaring Fork Valley, where the high cost of housing has squeezed even the middle class out of much of the market. Habitat has been building homes for working families that simply cannot afford the high cost of housing.
Gilbert stressed that the number of units at the Basalt project could increase or decrease slightly if the project progresses. His goal is to build four or five duplexes per year. That’s all the work the local chapter can undertake and supervise at this time, he said.
Habitat For Humanity Roaring Fork has become a leader in providing affordable housing in the valley. It purchased 12 lots in the Keator Grove neighborhood of Carbondale during the recession and has constructed four residences there. Numbers five and six are under construction.
“Our valley always thinks about Pitkin County and Aspen coming to the rescue,” Gilbert said. Other organizations need to step up, he said, and Habitat is prepared. The organization is at an advantage over private developers because it doesn’t have to make a profit, he noted.
The key to the project is the partnership with the school district. “For us to make it happen, we have to cut costs somewhere,” Gilbert said. Eliminating land acquisition and reducing labor costs by harnessing volunteers makes the project more feasible.
The school district has 4.5 acres of unused property on the hillside behind the school, spreading upvalley toward the hillside behind the football field. The site provides “awesome views,” Gilbert said.
Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Diana Sirko said the project has the potential to be a “game changer” for the district. Voters in November approved issuance of bonds for the district to raise revenues for affordable housing. The school district is dedicating those funds to rental housing. The Basalt project would provide units that teachers could purchase.
The design will focus on making the neighborhood livable with amenities rather than packing in as many units as possible, Gilbert said. A portion of the popular sledding hill will be preserved for the public, as will access to a trail in the area.
The school district is exempt from Pitkin County and town of Basalt land-use reviews, so the project wouldn’t require lengthy review. It would likely earn Basalt’s support.
“I think we would be excited about it,” said Town Manager Mike Scanlon. Selling the units evenly between teachers and other residents makes the project appealing, he said.
The project is an example of the kind of partnership necessary to make a dent in the affordable-housing demand, Scanlon said. The challenge to projects is always land costs.
“The good news is the school district has the land to do it,” he said.
Habitat enlisted the Basalt architectural firm of CCY to examine if the site would accommodate the proposed project and learned that it could. Now Habitat is looking at technical issues such as soils tests and getting water and sanitation service to the site. Infrastructure costs will be the big challenge, Gilbert said.
He hopes that enough information is collected by April so Habitat’s board of directors can decide “go or no go.” Sirko said when all the information is collected, the Board of Education also would have to decide whether to pursue the partnership.
Gilbert is optimistic.
“I’d be surprised if it didn’t happen,” he said.
If the project proceeds, construction of the first units could start by spring 2017, he said.
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