PI Editorial: Time to take area’s housing needs seriously | PostIndependent.com

PI Editorial: Time to take area’s housing needs seriously

Post Independent Editorial Board

Jerry Raehal (Publisher)

John Stroud (Editor)

Charlie Wertheim (PI staff)

Heather Marine (PI staff)

Michael Durant (community member)

Wendy Huber (community member)

Last week’s 2-1 decision by the Garfield County commissioners to deny plans for a 228-unit residential project south of Glenwood Springs seems to mirror the split in public sentiment when it comes to doing what it will ultimately take to address the area’s housing needs.

Those needs are outlined, in graphic detail, in the just-released Greater Roaring Fork Valley Regional Housing Study.

Simply put, we have a housing shortage. And it’s a problem that not only involves those on the lower end of the pay scale. It extends to middle income earners, as well — the “missing middle” as defined by the study.

From Glenwood Spring to Aspen, and extending west and east along the I-70 corridor, we don’t have enough reasonably priced units for our workforce to be able to live reasonably close to where they work.

The shortage involves both “attainable” (typically free market) and “affordable” (deed-restricted) housing, and includes both housing for purchase and rental housing.

According to the study, which looked at housing needs in the region stretching from Aspen to Parachute, and east to Gypsum and Eagle:

The region has a 2,100-unit shortfall in housing for households bringing in 60 percent of the area median income (AMI) — $42,240 for Glenwood Springs — and less.

There’s a 1,900-unit shortfall for households between 100 and 160 percent AMI ($70,400 to $112,640) — the “missing middle.”

Overspending on housing costs the region $54 million per year; money that people are having to put into their housing cost, rather than spending in the community in other ways.

More than 26,000 workers (out of 47,000 employed residents) cross paths in their daily commute, versus just 19,000 employed residents who live relatively close to where they work.

It’s a regional problem that will ultimately require regional solutions.

Part of the equation may very well be the formation of a tax-funded regional housing authority that would be charged with seeking out development opportunities for deed-restricted housing projects. It’s a decision area voters may be asked to decide.

For now, though, another part of the equation is supply. And it’s not just about creating supply here in Glenwood, or out in Parachute, or up in Aspen.

The entire region is short on the supply side to support the demands of a diverse economy that’s dependent on everything from tourism and outdoor recreation to energy development and other resource extraction.

The Garfield County Housing Authority board noted in a recent meeting that the supply problem was punctuated just this month when there were 35 applicants for a $600, one-bedroom apartment in Rifle.

As for the county commissioners’ decision to reject a plan to take 33 acres of the Flying M Ranch near the Riverview School along County Road 154 and build a mix of modest-size “tiny homes” in the 800-square-foot range, several larger townhouses and a senior care facility — it seemed like a reasonable solution on several fronts.

Sure, it and other proposals like it come with some challenges — in this particular case a bad intersection that needs to be fixed.

But, with a bit more planning, and some buy-in from the developer and our elected representatives, these are not insurmountable challenges.

At the same time, there has been much public questioning about the anticipated rents for the new 116-unit Six Canyon Apartments complex that is under construction in West Glenwood.

Let’s be honest, those rents, likely to range from about $1,700 to $2,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, and $2,400 to $2,900 for two bedrooms, are not particularly affordable to households earning below the area median annual income of $70,400 for Glenwood Springs.

However, they do fall within the affordability range for that “missing middle,” according to the recent housing study for the region.

It’s part of the solution. But it and other free-market projects like the Flying M proposal are not the only solutions.

We need a broader view in addressing our housing needs.

On the supply side, we can’t let the complaints of a few “we-got-here-first … not-in-my-backyard” neighbors drive decisions when it comes to reasonable housing projects.

In the case of Flying M, a zoning change to allow for higher-density housing in an area that’s already being heavily developed seems appropriate — with a few tweaks and compromises when it comes to funding infrastructure needs.

On the demand side, we can’t only play to the “missing middle” and above. We also have to consider those households that earn less than the area median income. That means deed restrictions, whether it’s below-market for-purchase housing, or rent controls — both of which require government involvement and some taxpayer buy-in.

Glenwood Springs went to great lengths to devise a method for developers of rental projects to take advantage of certain fee reductions in exchange for basing rents on various income levels.

It’s a program we would like to see more developers take advantage of.

And, when it comes to the possible formation of a regional housing authority to do what it would take to truly tackle the issue, let’s start the conversation now.

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