Roaring Fork Valley housing coalition inches closer to reality

Pitkin County, Aspen and Basalt elected officials OK seed money for Greater Roaring Fork Valley Housing Coalition

Pitkin County commissioners as well as Aspen and Basalt town councils on Tuesday unanimously supported the creation of a nonprofit housing coalition for the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond to try to address the area’s lack of affordable housing options. The elected officials all agreed to chip in $10,000 each toward the effort.

The coalition may become a reality by the spring, said Kara Silbernagel, Pitkin County police and project manager.

“This is exciting,” Commissioner Greg Poschman said. “I think something rich and wonderful can happen here.”

The effort to create the Greater Roaring Fork Valley Housing Coalition began as part of a Colorado Department of Local Affairs grant to make the valley’s workforce more resilient. A steering committee later identified housing as the most important way to make that happen.

Now, various governmental entities up and down the Roaring Fork Valley and the Colorado River Valley are in the process of being invited to contribute $10,000 in seed money to establish the nonprofit and create a board of directors to come up with new affordable housing projects.

So far, Pitkin County and the Glenwood Springs City Council have signed on to the effort. Snowmass Village, Carbondale, Eagle County and Garfield County will take it up in the near future, Silbernagel said.

Members of Aspen City Council meeting Tuesday unanimously supported the $10,000 contribution, but they also were skeptical of the idea.

“While this is not a lot of money and it is a goal that we are looking to forward, it may not be fully baked here yet,” Mayor Torre said. “So I would just say to council members, let’s get our questions out on the table if we have some, but it is not necessary for approval tonight.”

Ultimately, though, the officeholders agreed that the letter of intent is a small but significant step toward establishing a cohesive body to address housing in the region.

“I’m glad we’re taking this direction,” said Councilman Skippy Mesirow, noting that “if the other communities haven’t shown up before, it’s awesome they’re showing up now.”

Potential drawbacks councilmembers cited were the amount of staff time it will take, the fact that the nonprofit doesn’t have governing documents at this time, and how different the participating governmental entities are when it comes their approaches to housing and development. Aspen has been on the forefront of addressing worker housing and has a real estate transfer tax that in part supports housing, noted Councilwoman Rachel Richards. Other localities don’t have a RETT, she said.

Tuesday night, Basalt town manager Ryan Mahoney told the council the letter of intent “re-engages the town in the regional housing coalition.”

Basalt Councilwoman Elyse Hottel said seeking regional solutions to the affordable housing crisis is the wisest strategy.

“It can’t be solved by one municipality or one entity by ourself,” she said.

Basalt is pursuing its own affordable housing initiatives after voters approved an extension of an existing property tax in November. About $6 million will be earmarked for affordable housing projects, which are yet to be named. The Town Council met in executive session Tuesday night about possible acquisition of property for affordable housing. No action was taken in open session on property purchases. That indicates it is still in the negotiation stage.

Governments in the Colorado River Valley also have been invited to take part and will be able to join at any time if they choose, she said. Officials would like the coalition to be up and running by April or May in order to take advantage of grants and loans authorized by the Colorado Legislature and likely to be available between May and July, Pitkin County’s Silbernagel said.

The “Colorado State Legislature is preparing to make $450 million in housing funds available for affordable housing projects from (federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021) funding with approximately 50% available as grants and 50% as loans,” Silbernagel wrote in a memo to commissioners. “The loan funds will be in the form of low/no interest loans that political subdivisions cannot accept without a vote of the people.”

Colorado law requires the vote, though a nonprofit would not be subject to the same rules, said Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock.

The effort to establish the housing coalition piggybacks on similar plans outlined a few years ago by Roaring Fork Valley residents David Myler and Bill Lamont, who wanted to put together a regional housing authority. However, that effort was stymied not only by COVID-19 but also because establishing a “housing authority” made governments nervous because it could likely override local land-use codes, Peacock said.

A “housing coalition,” however, would be charged with coming up with affordable housing projects for the various governmental entities participating in it, which would then be submitted to the appropriate jurisdiction for land-use approval under the applicable land-use code, Silbernagel and Peacock said.

Nan Sundeen, Pitkin County director of Human Services, said the area’s proposed coalition is unique in Colorado.

“There isn’t another around the state involving this many jurisdictions,” she said.

Commissioners Poschman and Kelly McNicholas Kury said they hoped the housing coalition board of directors won’t be made up of all elected officials.

“We will get accused of an end-around of the public process if it’s all electeds,” McNicholas Kury said.

Aspen Times reporters Rick Carroll and Scott Condon contributed to this report.

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