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Panel looks for housing solutions

Dennis Webb

If a housing trust fund is created in Colorado, it should be allocated in a way that reflects the extraordinary needs of places such as mountain resorts, representatives of these communities say.Officials with affordable housing agencies and local elected officials from Summit County to Aspen, met Tuesday in Glenwood Springs in a focus group organized by the Colorado Blue Ribbon Panel on Housing. Focus groups around the state are assessing local housing needs and possible statewide solutions.The Colorado Blue Ribbon Panel on Housing is considering possible recommendations for how the state should respond. One possibility would be to endorse an effort to create a state fund to support affordable housing programs. The Colorado Housing Trust Fund Coalition, consisting of consumers, housing advocates, real estate agents, lenders and others, says such a fund could generate the $26.5 million per year that the state Division of Housing determined was needed to meet unmet affordable housing needs as of 2001.Local representatives expressed fears Tuesday that the proposed funding allocation would favor bigger cities over rural areas such as mountain resorts.Elizabeth Smith, a development specialist with the state Department of Local Affairs, said the allocation formula “is equitable based on population.””Which makes it inequitable right there,” said Jacque Whitsitt of Basalt, executive director of the Colorado Association of Ski Towns.Kay Philip, the newly appointed affordable housing planner for the town of Carbondale, said the fund allocation needs to have a rural component that reflects the skewed cost of housing in resort areas.Also at issue is how the fund would be financed. One proposal would make use of a real estate transfer tax, at a cost of $80 for the sale of a $200,000 home. The measure would require state voter approval providing an exemption from the Taxpayers Bill of Rights amendment.Rachel Richards, an Aspen City Council member, said CAST is concerned about restricting the transfer tax for housing purposes only. Some communities have taxes in place for a variety of purposes now, under a grandfather clause that allows for the taxes because they predated TABOR’s passage. These communities also fear that opening a discussion about the tax could allow opponents of the financing method, such as the real estate community, to eliminate the tax altogether where it already exists.While a consensus on statewide solutions to the affordable housing problem may be hard to achieve, participants in Tuesday’s meeting universally agreed about the extent of the problem regionally. They talked at length about issues such as the continuing loss of low-income trailer parks, the inability of essential middle-income workers such as firefighters and teachers to live near where they work, and the impact of second-home purchases on the housing problem. Second-homeowners both reduce the supply of housing and increase the demand for workers, they said.”About half of the people that live on our site clean empty homes,” said Mary Hernandez, site manager for the Villas de Santa Lucia affordable housing project in Carbondale.Glenwood Springs City Council member Joe O’Donnell said that as a statewide affordable housing solution is discussed, it’s important for Front Range interests to understand that housing costs more to build in the mountains.”I don’t think they realize that on the other side of the hill,” O’Donnell said.Garfield County Commissioner Trési Houpt sits on the Colorado Blue Ribbon Panel on Housing. She said she thinks it is serving as a means for those on the Front Range to understand the problems of outlying areas, “and to recognize that there are some common links in trying to address this problem.””It’s been a very good process so far. Our hope is to really come up with a practical solution to moving affordable housing forward,” she said.She said she likes the idea of a statewide trust fund, noting that a similar one already has been created in the Roaring Fork Valley.”I always felt as if that has been the missing link” in addressing affordable housing needs, she said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com


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