Guest column: Public and private is the right perspective |

Guest column: Public and private is the right perspective

Collaboration and synergy translate to sustainable solutions

Gail Schwartz

This is the second of four columns from Gail Schwartz following up on the recent regional affordable housing summit and subsequent solutions.

Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork Valley plans to build a modular home manufacturing plant to expedite the pace of affordable housing development, while also creating an industry that provides jobs and workforce training in the Colorado River Valley.

In recent weeks, we’ve received feedback that our plans are somehow in competition with the private sector. We have always believed that the only sustainable path forward is collaboration and the momentum that comes from synergistic partnerships.

HFH worked diligently to partner with Eco Dwelling, Inc., a private modular manufacturing plant located just outside of Rifle, to help build homes, but according to a national expert, Eco Dwelling didn’t have the capacity to serve our needs. Eco Dwelling is very innovative and is an important component to solving the housing crisis in Western Garfield County and they demonstrate a model we hope that others in the construction/development industry will follow.

We simply don’t believe that the free market and private sector can or will solve the affordable housing crisis — a shortfall of 4,000 to 5,000 homes — on their own. Afterall, they’ve been at it for decades and the crisis is worsening at an alarming pace. We believe the answer is private-public-nonprofit partnerships where synergy and collaboration will combine to build the infrastructure critical to our economic survival: affordable workforce housing. There is more than enough room in our housing ecosystem for multiple entities to contribute to a regional solution to this pressing problem.

We recognize that everybody — workers, business, government, nonprofits — is just trying to make it. Every entity has mouths to feed and workers to house and employees to support and taxes to pay, but we are all in this together and can no longer afford to fight for our own turf.

Creating solutions to stabilize workforce housing can in fact alleviate “taxpayer burden.” Our data shows that families who benefit from home ownership and work in their own communities actually rely less on public services and decrease taxpayer burden. Our planned facility will not only create more regional housing, but it will also create jobs with benefits and workforce training, all of which will benefit businesses and further decrease taxpayer burden. The real burden to taxpayers is a system that has to provide support services to workers because they aren’t earning livable wages, don’t have good benefits, and commute up to two hours per day.

There is a long history of private-public partnerships in other sectors that serve as a reliable model for the housing solutions we are seeking. Government and private companies collaborate to finance, build and operate projects such as highways, schools and parks. We have many of those examples, including highways, here in our state. Government often doesn’t have sufficient funding for much-needed infrastructure projects, so they look to private enterprise to shore things up. Synergy is healthy competition.

There will always be an important role for for-profit developers, but they need more tools to keep things affordable. This is where the government and nonprofits can and should step in where needed. Eco Dwelling will build and sell non-deed-restricted homes at a price in Rifle that is affordable to families in that community. We believe that’s fantastic. It creates a free-market opportunity. It doesn’t, however, create the perpetual opportunity that the deed-restricted housing which Habitat can provide for the long term.

As we look to the future, we can’t help but see the ways in which the affordable housing crisis has trickled down the Colorado River Valley. Western Garfield County, which was the last vestige of affordable living in 2020, has seen a 40% increase in prices in the last two years. Instead of watching people move farther and farther away from their jobs in Aspen and Carbondale, our plant will allow deed-restricted homes to be built in the Roaring Fork Valley for many of those workers.

We can’t think of a single good argument for why we shouldn’t attack this problem from every possible angle. We need affordable free-market housing. We need a stock of affordable deed-restricted housing. We need solutions. We need collaboration. With all hands on deck, we can tackle this.

Gail Schwartz is the President of Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley. As a former Colorado State Senator, business owner and community planner, she has a unique understanding of the affordable housing crisis on the Western Slope and in the greater Roaring Fork Valley and is committed to being part of the solution.

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