Regional housing authority pitched to address workforce needs
First of two parts.
A regional housing development authority involving multiple area governments and making use of a voter-approved tax or fee may be one way to create the collective clout needed to make serious headway in addressing workforce housing needs for the Roaring Fork Valley.
David Myler, an area land-use attorney who has been involved in several affordable housing projects in the valley and who sits on the Colorado Housing Finance Authority board, has teamed with Bill Lamont, a retired city planner in Boulder and longtime local resident, to pitch the idea to local elected officials.
So far, most city and county governments from Aspen to New Castle have expressed interest in forming a steering committee to start the conversation in earnest.
State law passed in the early 2000s allows for the formation of multijurisdictional housing authorities as a means to take a regional approach to land acquisition and development to address housing needs. The law authorizes up to a 1 percent sales tax, five mills of property tax or impact fees.
Formation of the authority would be done by intergovernmental agreement, but voter approval would be needed for the funding mechanism, Myler explained.
An initial step for area governments would be to commission a survey-based analysis to help determine the need for workforce housing to serve the needs of both individual communities and the larger valley region, he said.
“If we are going to create a stable workforce in the valley, we need to have a better stock of reasonably affordable housing,” Myler said during a recent presentation to the Glenwood Springs City Council. “There seems to be general agreement in our discussions so far that a regional approach to the production of workforce housing makes some sense.”
If an agreement could be completed by early summer, it’s possible a tax question could be on the ballot in November. Otherwise, the effort would likely have to wait a year, Myler said.
Lamont notes that individual jurisdictions, including Glenwood Springs, have a hard time making any headway in addressing local needs, but collectively area governments would have better success.
“If we can approach it cumulatively, it allows us to utilize bonds and will have a lot more impact,” he said.
Even the Roaring Fork School District, in designating $15 million of its $122 million bond issue that was approved by district voters in 2015 to address teacher housing needs, is able to obtain fewer than 20 residential units for each of the three communities it serves.
“It illustrates the difficulty of going it alone,” Lamont said.
A regional housing authority with a dedicated funding source would be able to identify locations for medium- to high-density housing, preferably close to public transit. It could then purchase land to be developed in partnership with the private sector into a mix of rental and for-sale workforce housing that would likely be deed-restricted in some way to maintain affordable rents and mortgages.
Glenwood Springs elected officials expressed an interest in helping to fund the needs assessment and appointing someone to help draft the intergovernmental agreement.
But Glenwood Mayor Michael Gamba cautioned that Glenwood and other downvalley jurisdictions may be less likely to support another tax-funded, multijurisdictional entity similar to the intergovernmental Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.
“It’s not an insignificant number of people in the Glenwood area who don’t believe we’re getting our fair share out of being part of RFTA,” Gamba said during the Feb. 16 work session discussion with Myler and Lamont. “There’s probably little chance that Glenwood voters would say they’re willing to vote to give more taxes to something that benefits Aspen, which is how this might be viewed.”
Specifically, Glenwood likely would be reluctant to host large housing projects that serve primarily Aspen-area workers, he said.
Myler said that’s why the structure of the proposal is important, including assurances that localized needs are addressed.
“That’s why we need a collective effort to break down some of the silos that separate the different communities, and convince voters that a regional authority makes sense,” he said.
Glenwood City Councilman Stephen Bershenyi said the housing shortage must be addressed regionally.
“If we get together to solve the problem, we have much more control over how and where development takes place, and we have a much better chance of being effective in creating something that’s far-sighted and serves all of the communities involved,” he said.
Carbondale Mayor Dan Richardson said the town board there was receptive to the housing authority idea when Myler and Lamont explained the concept.
“I think it could be a really important tool to approach housing regionally, just like we have approached transportation,” Richardson said. “It’s a good way to land bank and secure it for the future.”
Key to the conversation will be Aspen and Pitkin County, which for several decades have jointly operated the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority. The entity utilizes a real estate transfer tax that predates state laws disallowing such taxes.
To date, the upvalley housing authority has built or acquired approximately 3,000 residential units for workforce housing. Of those, about 1,500 are for-sale units that are owner occupied, and about two-thirds with income guidelines for buyers and appreciation caps to keep the resale costs down. Another 1,350 units in the Aspen-Pitkin County stock are rentals with controls based on income and other guidelines to determine rents.
If the funding mechanism for a valleywide housing authority were to be a property tax, Pitkin County would bring a lot of assessed valuation to the mix, Lamont pointed out.
If the upvalley governments decide not to be part of the broader effort, however, the emphasis can be shifted to downvalley needs, he said.
“It Pitkin County is not a part of this, they don’t bring anything to the table,” he said.
Coming Thursday: Has the region made progress in workforce housing in the last year?
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Current Basalt officials say the town government has violated the Colorado Taxpayers’ Bill of Right by increasing the property tax mill levy over the prior years 10 times since the mid-2000s. Two former mayors contend the mill levy could be adjusted in any given year as long as it didn’t exceed the mill levy in 1994. It’s a $2 million question.