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New committee to brainstorm ideas for affordable housing

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By Jeremy Heiman

Looking for a way to spend all that spare time? The Town of Carbondale is calling for residents to volunteer for a housing committee being formed this spring to brainstorm ways to fund and create more affordable housing.

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The Carbondale Board of Trustees will appoint committee members from a pool of applicants in late April. Town Manager Tom Baker said no special qualifications are required, but town officials hope that the development, construction, business, finance, nonprofit, and residential sectors will be represented. Baker also suggested that at least one and perhaps two of the trustees themselves should serve on the committee.

“We’re just looking for people in the community who are interested,” Baker said.

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The committee, which officials are calling the Housing Advisory Group, will have about six months to complete its mission, after which it will be dissolved.

Baker suggested to the trustees that the committee be convened in May and be ready to submit a report to the town trustees by about October, after meeting once or twice per month. He said the town trustees probably won’t make six months a hard and fast deadline, but the committee will definitely be temporary.

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“They want to have an end point in sight, so that if people sign up for this, they know they’ll be serving for a specific period of time,” Baker said.

Carbondale, along with most of the valley’s communities, has been struggling with the lack of affordable housing for years. Baker and Kay Philip, town housing planner, hope a citizen board can help by coming up with ideas on how to increase the town’s affordable housing stock in ways not totally dependent on development. When affordable housing is brought on line as part of a development, it is generally a small percentage of the total number of dwellings, and often only marginally affordable.

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“It’s very hard for us to get affordable units out of a development situation,” Baker told the trustees during a meeting on March 24.

The current recession might be an opportune time to get something started on affordable housing because land prices can be expected to decline, suggested trustee Ed Cortez.

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Though that is certainly a possibility, it hasn’t manifested, Philip replied.

Colin Laird, executive director of Healthy Mountain Communities, is also working on a project called The Affordable Communities Initiative, an effort to create a regional housing strategy and encourage affordable housing through transit-oriented development. Laird told the trustees he’s talked to all the communities in the Roaring Fork Valley about affordable housing in the current economy.

“We all have the same problem,” Laird said. “How do we take advantage of the fact that the market has softened?”

The Carbondale Housing Advisory Group will work with the Affordable Communities Initiative, ensuring that Carbondale is part of regional efforts.

According to a release from the town of Carbondale, the Advisory Group will research land, resources and opportunities to create affordable housing without total dependence on development mitigation. The group may discover potential public/private partnerships for the future, or funding mechanisms that have not been explored previously.

Partnerships are possible with property owners or with the business community or with other jurisdictions, Baker said.

“Maybe a group of business owners could come together with some seed money,” he speculated.

“It’s interesting when you get together with a group of creative people,” Philip said. “We might come up with something we’ve never thought of before.”

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