Valleywide housing summit seeks to share ideas, with a call to local and collective action
The housing crisis in the region has “come to a head,” in the words of Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork Valley President Gail Schwartz.
It’s often mentioned at the top of the list of other big issues facing the inherently connected region from Aspen to Parachute — child care, transportation, traffic congestion, crime, drug addiction, troubled youth, homelessness, mental health.
And when engaging conversation on any one of those topics, the challenges around housing insecurity and a live-work culture that often involves long daily commutes between the places where people live and where they work tends to become the subtext.
On March 22, the conversation will be focused squarely on housing solutions during a day-long event in Aspen, “Solving the Housing Crisis: A Regional Summit on Equitable Solutions.”
The summit takes place at the Aspen Meadows, Doerr Hosier Center.
The goal of the inaugural summit is to bring together the philanthropic and broader community “to engage and support immediate and scalable solutions to address the housing crisis,” said Schwartz, who is the lead organizer and host of the event.
It’s also a call to action.
“It’s not a fundraiser, necessarily,” she said. “It’s a solution-raiser.”
That’s not to say funding isn’t a major component of the discussion, Schwartz said. But the biggest value in bringing as many voices to the table as possible, representing interests as unique to western Garfield County and Glenwood Springs as to the workforce needs of a world-class resort in Aspen, is a sharing of ideas and what has worked and what hasn’t.
The day will feature moderated panel discussions and sessions focused on engaging the business community and regional institutions to meet workforce housing needs, challenges specific to the region’s Latino community, financial resources, local government involvement, nonprofit and private real estate development opportunities and philanthropic support.
The day’s objectives are to:
- Define the housing crisis within the regional context;
- Convene and engage stakeholders throughout region, businesses, local government, nonprofits and the philanthropic community around pressing issues related to housing; and,
- Identify immediate and scalable solutions to the pressing issue of stable, affordable housing for our regional workforce and communities.
Hannah Klausman is the director of economic and community development for the city of Glenwood Springs. She has been asked to help frame the issue to kick off the event.
“From my perspective, I’ve been working on housing issues for the city since about 2017,” she said. “Since that time, a lot has changed, and a lot hasn’t changed.”
For Glenwood Springs’ part, the city’s elected leaders have moved from a policy of trying to offer incentives for builders to create more affordable rental housing, which didn’t turn out to be all that successful, to returning more recently to the city’s former policy of requiring a percentage of new residential construction to be deed-restricted in an effort to maintain affordability.
Klausman is also the city’s representative on the new West Mountain Regional Housing Coalition, an intergovernmental entity formed last year to try to address housing needs on a regional basis.
“I come at it from a municipal lens, looking at different regulations and incentives the city has tried over years to address the crisis,” Klausman said. “And it is a crisis that has gained in urgency since the pandemic.”
“I just feel we are at this very critical juncture,” she said. “How many stories do you hear daily about people’s struggles to find housing and employers not being able to keep workers. Everyone is impacted, and our economies are at risk.”
Convening such a summit has been in discussion ever since the Greater Roaring Fork Valley Regional Housing Study came out in 2019. That study determined that the region is in need of an additional 4,000 affordable housing units for those earning between 60% and 160% of the Area Median Income.
The pandemic delayed that effort, and also exacerbated the problem, Schwartz said.
“We lost even more ground during that time, where our available housing stock really began to disappear,” she said. “When it came time to consider it again, we really felt that Habitat was in a position to convene the conversation, and that coming together and sharing best practices and scalable solutions was the best approach.”
And, it’s not just about Aspen, she said.
Even though the event is being held in Aspen, it’s designed to bring broad representation from across the region to the table.
Besides a select number of tickets being reserved for sponsors, speakers, special guests and philanthropists, half of the 100 tickets available for community members to attend will be reserved for Garfield County residents, and half for Pitkin and Eagle county residents, Schwartz said.
Speakers and panelists also include representatives from a mix of upvalley and downvalley entities, as well as from across the state.
Area chambers of commerce leaders and employers will be talking about workforce housing needs; commissioners from Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties will address government policies; and banking and finance experts will discuss the various resources available.
The lunchtime keynote speaker will be Cheri Whitt-Brown, executive director for the Greeley-Weld Habitat for Humanity, presenting a successful housing case study from her region, called Hope Springs.
As the city of Glenwood Springs is now working with Habitat Roaring Fork on two projects, Klausman said she hopes to learn some new things at the summit.
“Just setting up the housing coalition was fairly groundbreaking,” she said. “There are not a lot of entities like that, where instead of operating in silos we come together to try to do some things regionally.”
She acknowledged there are concerns about operating in that manner, especially from some of the Garfield County jurisdictions that do view it as Aspen’s problem.
“We can do both, by working within our own municipal goals and vision but also being a part of that regional discussion,” Klausman said.
Aspen and Pitkin County remain the leaders in creating affordable housing opportunities, at least in terms of the sheer number of deed-restricted units that exist and continue to be built.
“But it still doesn’t address their housing needs,” Schwartz said. “We still have people commuting four hours a day to get to and from work.”
In the meantime, housing prices in the traditional bedroom communities farther west continue to climb as real estate pressures intensify across the region.
“We have to find ways to more affordably build homes in the communities where people work,” she said.
The summit is also “not a one-and-done,” Schwartz said.
The final session of the day focuses on converting ideas to action with a group exercise and discussion led by Schwartz and David Myler of the West Mountain Regional Housing Coalition.
“What we want is to have some ongoing working groups to continue the conversation and pursue some of the concepts being raised at the summit,” Schwartz said.
Post Independent interim Managing Editor and senior reporter John Stroud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 970-384-9160.
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