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Roaring Fork Housing Authority sought to increase affordability

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A group of forward-thinking citizens is in the early stages of creating a potential Multi-jurisdictional Housing Authority (MJHA) for the Roaring Fork Valley to address issues related to affordable housing. An MJHA is different from a county or city housing authority because it can reach across various governments and boundary lines to create solutions for a larger but interconnected geographical area, such as the Roaring Fork Valley. The model became a legal possibility in Colorado in 2006, but only Summit County has elected to both create and fund such an entity.

An MJHA would likely be funded, after a citizen referendum approved it, via a sales tax, property tax, construction improvement fee, or some combination of the three. The sales tax would be half a cent, the property tax five mills, and the construction improvement fee $2.50. A portion of the money would cover the administrative expenses of the entity, while the rest would go to tackling the affordable housing problem in the valley. Though it’s unclear how much would be raised here, Summit County’s MJHA reported $306,179 in revenue in fiscal year 2018. The funds could be used to directly subsidize housing units for renters or buyers, ease developers’ costs, or be used creatively to explore other options.

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Bill Lamont, a local retired citizen and former RE-1 school board member, is spearheading the effort. For years, he and David Myler, who sat on the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority for 12 years, have been brainstorming solutions to the affordable housing problem. Lamont cited a recent visit to Valley View Hospital, where an employee confessed to him that he commutes from Loma every day, as a perfect example of the extremes that workers must face to get to their jobs. Lamont believes the effects are lamentable.

“When people commute two or three hours a day, they don’t get to spend time with their family, volunteer in the community, participate in school activities,” he said. “It’s a good idea for people to live relatively close to where they work.” Ultimately, he said, frustrated employees relocate elsewhere, oftentimes just as they are peaking in their professional abilities.

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Although Lamont says that many have pointed the finger at Aspen as the villain in this saga, he credits the ski town with handling affordable housing better than most. He cited the fact that Aspen took advantage of a real estate transfer tax (a practice now no longer available to townships, but one that is grandfathered to Aspen) to build over 3,000 units of affordable housing since the 1970s and continues to look for ways to house its workforce. Other towns have affordable housing requirements built into their codes (such as 20 percent in Carbondale), but there still seems to be real angst among middle and lower income earners about the affordability of long-term residence in the valley.

To accumulate some hard data, Lamont — with the support of an initial grant — commissioned a needs assessment survey. The survey asks detailed questions about household locations, incomes, number of occupants, long-term goals of residents, and seeks to acquire other data useful to determine the magnitude of affordable housing requirements. Approximately 1,500 residents have completed the survey since it was offered earlier this year. The needs assessment is available at www.regionalhousingsurvey.org/open.

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For now, Lamont is focusing on the logistics of creating a potential MJHA. He organized three task forces and sent dozens of invitations to specialists and concerned citizens to set the foundation for what he perceives as inevitable public scrutiny if the plan makes its way to the ballot. The Development Task Force will seek developers’ input on identifying impediments as well as incentives to creating affordable housing. The Land Use Task Force will rely upon the expertise of developers to identify areas suitable for developing workforce housing. Local architects will be asked to produce artistic renderings of dwelling types. Lastly, the Affordable Housing Task Force will identify current affordable housing requirements in various places in the valley and suggest ways to streamline the zoning code to fast track projects.

Lamont knows they will face some tough questions marketing the proposal.

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“Where are you going to put this housing? Not in my back yard,” will be the common response, he said. But despite some locals’ distaste for the idea of more development, Lamont argues that the advantages of creating workforce housing will outweigh the disadvantages.

“By the time we’re ready to go to the citizens to talk about a housing authority, we can show progress about where development should take place, density should take place, how to clean up affordable housing requirements, and present ideas from developers. All of these task forces are in anticipation of the questions citizens will ask.”

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