As expected, the October 11 ribbon cutting for Collegiate Commons attracted Buena Vista and county dignitaries, town staff and Chaffee County Economic Development members, but it also attracted a group of senior citizens, curious about the project. While none of them were willing to go on record about whether they might be considering a rental unit or know someone who would be interested, the presence of community members made it was clear the town cares a great deal about this affordable housing project.
“This is wonderful for this town,” said Mayor Duff Lacy. “It is so needed and it’s so great to have it ready for occupancy. It compliments the other subdivisions by adding another option for housing needs. The central location makes it ideal for mobility around town. The design and the appearance of Collegiate Commons is complimentary to the surrounding area.”
The Collegiate Commons project located off Arizona Street in Buena Vista has received certificates of occupancy for both buildings and families have begun moving in. The 48-unit $11.7 million affordable housing multi-family housing project was made possible by the extensive collaboration between the town, the Buena Vista School District, the Chaffee County Economic Development Corporation and Urban Inc, which received the tax credits underlying the construction. The project nearly fell apart several times.
“We kept plugging away,” said Collegiate Peaks Bank CEO Charlie Forster, who introduced Urban Inc Principal Al Blum to the CCEDC and the town. “Several times it seemed like it might not happen, but we didn’t give up.”
“Getting the Colorado Housing Finance Authority tax credits made the difference on whether this project could be built,” said Urban Inc Principal Al Blum. “There were 12 projects awarded out of 43 applications. We were ranked the number one project out of all of them because of all the involvement of the school board, the city of BV, the Economic Development Corporation. This entire project is an example of what happens when we collaborate.”
“With affordable housing, we needed a space near the commercial area – and the land trade between the school district and the town gave us housing and a brand new ball field,” said CCEDC Executive Director Wendell Pryor. “It’s a win-win.”
Based on the requirements of the CHFA tax credits, which turned into construction loans through Collegiate Peaks Bank, Collegiate Commons will be available to families and individuals who meet strict, low-income income requirement for the number of wage-earners and the size of their families. The one, two and three-bedroom units will rent for around $700, $800 and $900 per month, far below market rents.
“We are required to do third party verification of all the application information, so it will probably take us more than a year to fill the units,” said Urban Inc executive Jim Murphy. “Yes folks are already moving in and we’re glad about that. We have to be careful to meet all the requirements to keep the tax credit, so that’s why it’s taking a while to get through the 150 applications we’ve had so far.”
The units are finished with stainless steel kitchen appliances, laundry appliances in every unit, and the project includes an exercise room and computer space. Now that the buildings are done, a children’s playground will be constructed on the west side of the north building. The interior finishes for the Collegiate Commons project, coupled with mountain views out nearly every window, make this “the nicest affordable housing units I think we’ve ever done,” according to Urban Inc Principal Al Blum. “It’s awfully rewarding to be able to create affordable housing for this community.”
As remarkable as it is for a housing project of this size and importance being completed in a rural area, is that Collegiate Commons was finished on schedule and on budget. Bryan Construction Superintendent Frank Bardowski, explained that after breaking ground last December, his construction teams pushed through the winter; completing the project in 10 months.
“We completed it on time and on budget. Not only have we kept a steady pace, but we did not have a single day of delay – none,” said Blum. “We were so concerned going in that we might run into frost problems and snow storms. But we had zero weather delays. It really made a difference in getting this built in a timely manner. The other big concern we had, given this area, is we didn’t know what was under the ground. We worried were we going to have blast boulders, but we had zero boulders. We were very lucky on those two things.”
“I especially appreciated the ongoing communication between Bryan Construction and the town as the project progressed so that we could address questions and issues in time to prevent project delays,” said Town Administrator Phillip Puckett. “It was great to see Bryan utilize many local contractors and suppliers to help keep a lot of the money in the local economy. We are very excited to see these units open up and add some more housing options for our community.”
Perhaps the positive outcome should come as no surprise. Urban Inc has more than two decades of experience building affordable housing in rural areas of Colorado, from Cânon City to Grand Junction, Durango, Pagosa Springs, and Ft. Lupton. Twenty years ago it build Sunrise Manor in Buena Vista.
“We’ve been in rural housing for a couple decades,” said Blum. “We feel comfortable going to the rural areas and the CCEDC has been very supportive. On this project, this location was critical and the land swap with the school was a win-win for everybody. The school got the ball field, we got the great location and they passed their bond issue to get the new school.”
For his part, Lacy is encouraged. “The availability of housing is desperately needed in the town and the county. Although not a complete nor a perfect solution to our housing needs, Collegiate Commons is just one step in the direction to accommodate the people who want to stay here, but need to get a foot hold before moving into a more permanent residence.”
Blum said to build affordable housing in a rural area requires collaboration. “We could build all kinds of luxury housing here, but it doesn’t solve the problem for the local workforce. Rural areas need taxing authorities, and waivers for things like water and sewer fees. Every little bit of collaboration can help make a property affordable.”