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Buena Vista’s Board of Trustees kept the momentum going on Tuesday by approving an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) for the county’s Multi-Jurisdictional Housing Authority (MJHA), which will focus on workforce and affordable housing as Chaffee County faces markedly increased pressures on its housing supply.

In a unanimous vote, the board pointed to the escalations in housing costs, along with a noticeable uptick in demand as more urban dwellers seek to relocate to small towns and rural areas.

The average cost of a home in Buena Vista is now $430,000, which requires an income of $60,000, Trustee Amy Eckstein pointed out. However, she said, the average income is considerably less at $41,000. “Our teachers, our firemen, our essential workers can’t live here anymore.”

“BV is at a critical point with affordable housing,” she said. “Since urban flight has happened with COVID, it feels insurmountable.” Eckstein said the authority will help Buena Vista take more steps toward measures such as inclusionary housing requirements, developer incentives and deed restrictions – moves that are of minimal cost to the town but ways to encourage affordable housing.

Becky Gray, Chaffee County’s Director of Housing, said the recent demands in the real estate market only increase the need for affordable housing. “Because the market is not going to help us make more affordable housing … we have to use policies, systems, and partnerships to get more affordable housing built.”

The Chaffee Board of County Commissioners and the City of Salida have signed onto the IGA for the authority, and the Poncha Town Board plans to review it Sept. 28.

The process to create the authority grew out of a 2016 county housing needs assessment, which made the situation clear: The county would need 270 units of affordable housing each year for 10 years to catch up with the demand.

Municipal leaders formed the Housing Policy Advisory Committee, which recommended the creation of the Office of Housing, and long-term, the MJHA, which could seek outside funding, grants, tax credits, and more to support the creation of workforce housing. The Office of Housing came first; mutually funded by the county and with representative financial support from the three municipalities.

Nine representatives will serve on the authority board, with three selected by the county commissioners and two each appointed by the Buena Vista and Poncha Springs town boards and Salida City Council.

Lauding Gray’s efforts to help establish the IGA, Town Administrator Phillip Puckett said the measure is a milestone for the town and county.

“What BV recognized was that we are so busy keeping up with all of the ongoing work of operating a town, that it’s hard to spend enough time figuring out viable ways to integrate policy into our code and the way we work with development on the topic of affordable housing,” he said. “This authority would be given a lot of abilities to go do that, go define those things.”

The authority’s powers include planning, financing, acquisition, construction and reconstruction, management, and operations. Within the rules of the IGA, more weighty matters such as condemnation and the creation of ballot issues will require a supermajority or 66 percent vote.