The Chaffee Housing Authority (CHA) Board meets monthly under the leadership of Chair Craig Nielson and Director Becky Gray. An action-packed agenda and a board packet of 21 items in October alone indicates that this group is simultaneously addressing a wide variety of initiatives surrounding the housing crisis in Chaffee County.
In addition to budget tracking, Director Gray provided updates at the Oct. 20 meeting on several programs that AVV has previously covered including:
AVV attended the meeting and then had a chance to sit down with Director Becky Gray to learn more about the CHA annual work plan and what their recent efforts look like. The following is a condensed version of the full interview. Readers with additional questions are encouraged to contact Director Becky Gray or Deputy Director Mike Bischoff . Email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
While the public may expect the CHA board and staff to be focused largely on delivering programs, helping clients with direct services, and working to develop housing units, their scope of work extends far beyond what new construction might be visible around the county. Other key activities involve pursuing, monitoring, and delivering on grants, buildings partnerships with a variety of stakeholders, listening to the community and their needs, and documenting and gathering data, to name a few.
Project management, staff recruitment, and development, as well as fund accounting also consume time and effort. With funding to date for the CHA being provided only on a year-to-year basis, resources are stretched to cover all the bases.
The group’s five-year Strategic Plan provides a framework that is updated annually to reflect shifting needs and priorities.
Work Plan Strategy and Goal Update
Drilling down further, a work plan for the year outlines four key goals and multiple sub-goals, showing activities for each key player by month. Committee and staff members report progress to the Director against each task and goal, for review at board meetings.
Below are some highlights of recent efforts toward the annual work plan, also revealing the challenges that CHA is facing.
Goal 1: Policy, Advocacy, and Education
The “We are Chaffee” program continues to share the stories of the diverse voices of the community in regards to housing and health, most recently with a pair of “Dinner and a Movie” events. Staff is building a library of documents translated into Spanish as part of the Language Justice effort. Another effort to help prospective tenants use online applications is also in development.
The City of Salida’s “Open Doors” program (incentivizing short-term rental owners to offer rental spaces long-term) fell short of its goal. This year, the Salida City Council did, however, purchase five recreation vehicles, which allowed several tenants to secure housing safety. CHA is looking forward to hosting a focus group with short-term rental owners and property management groups to search for other ways to offer incentives to make housing available.
The CHA has a seat at the table for the county Land Use Code update now underway, and the in-progress City of Salida Land Use Code update, as well as the South Arkansas River Sub-Area (SARSA) Master Plan (popularly known as Vandaveer Ranch).
At the state advocacy level, Gray notes that Chaffee is now considered a rural-resort county. “This means that Department of Housing funding can now reach up to a high of 140 percent Area Median Income (AMI), instead of 80 percent AMI — and we’re working to get 160 percent. ” In an area particularly hard-hit by lower earning, service sector incomes and high housing costs this is a significant win already.
Goal 2: Organizational/Operations
Moving from a small office to a maturing operation is typical of a startup. While creating processes and systems takes time and effort away from providing services, it is vital so an entity doesn’t collapse under its own weight. The CHA has moved rapidly in the last year as its systems catch up with its growing scope.
The CHA is now staffed with a Deputy Director, Owner’s Agent (for Jane’s Place rental project), a Grant Evaluator, and a Housing Navigator. Regarding records management and financial systems, the CHA has moved from simply keeping a checkbook to managing multiple spreadsheets and is poised to publish a Statement of Activities (“Profit and Loss”) and a Statement of Financial Position (“Balance Sheet”) to be transparent to all interested parties.
According to Gray, for now, the CHA relies on the County as their “fiscal sponsor” to provide full-fledged fund accounting services. The CHA just switched everything to the Google Cloud platform to collaborate on and maintain electronic records, avoiding the risks of decentralized storage on individual computers or paper files and allowing for in-depth audits as the CHA’s visibility grows.
Policies and Procedures are rarely the top priority in a growing organization. However, Gray says “the CHA has already obtained model policies and best practices from other multijurisdictional organizations in Colorado and they are working at adapting them to suit local needs and align with CHA’s visions and values.”
Data input time has been streamlined with self-populating Google Sheets, accessed online. Grant Evaluator Kelley Landau has moved rapidly to develop these and also creates summary sheets and data dashboards that allow Gray to have a finger on outcomes at any given time. Gray notes that good data is critical for obtaining grants and making data-driven decisions, providing guidance at the board level.
Sustainable funding is key to providing more services and building housing units as well as formalizing operational systems. Gray notes that the fate of forward progress here depends on the outcome of ballot measure 6A in the Nov. 8 election.
“It was a success just getting the measure on the ballot … we did have to get resolutions passed from all of our member jurisdictions (the County, Town of Buena Vista, City of Salida). So that alone to me represents a success,” said Gray. (To date the Town of Poncha Springs has declined to be a part of the CHA).
Goal 3: Affordable Housing Development
Developing relationships with Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) developers takes time and due diligence to qualify the best partners. Gray notes that some perform well (especially over the long run) while some do not. In addition, it requires about four to five acres of land to support a LIHTC project. With land prices rising rapidly here, this makes it very tough to get low-income housing projects off the ground.
Public-Private Partnerships are already underway with the Jane’s Place project. Ground-breaking is expected later this month. An owner’s agent, construction management and operations support are all specialty resources needed here that allow the CHA board and staff to focus on the next group of services and housing projects. Ongoing tenant management will also be provided to keep Jane’s Place running smoothly once occupied.
More importantly, a housing authority can be part owner of a project, meaning it pays no property or sales taxes during construction.
While that may not sound like much, the benefit comes when a developer can get much better lending terms if they show no property taxes. Looking ahead, Gray is working on a program where the CHA board can evaluate if there is enough community benefit for the CHA to be a part owner of any given project. More news about this is expected in the first quarter of 2023. It’s another example of creative thinking and leveraging the marketplace to get more housing for lower costs.
Goal 4: Housing Stability Programming
Chaffee County is positioning itself to be in line for funding at the federal level for the Continuums of Care (CoC) program, thanks to the data that Becky Longberg, the CHA Housing Navigator passes to the regional center in Cañon City and then up to the state and federal level. Prior to the CHA, no such data was being gathered and thus money was left on the table that is now being targeted.
The CoC program is a holistic, team-based approach (much like the “case conferencing” model used in healthcare) to bring stakeholder/service providers from all sectors to a common table to meet the variety of unique needs each housing-challenged person faces – from health to transportation to childcare as well as housing itself.
”It’s not just an approach to service delivery, but a structure under which HUD (Dept. of Housing and Urban Development) expects housing authorities to operate should they want access to certain homeless housing streams. They are important here – we do not yet have homeless prevention funding and our CoC is setting us up to apply for such,” Gray said.
And finally, the Rental Deposit Guarantee Program is “doing well”, Gray reports. “Almost all the tenants are paying the money back (it’s guaranteed by CHA to the landlord); the CHA has lost very little money in this program.” The CHA data dashboard shows more than 20 clients served to date in a variety of household types with a program that is low risk and a highly leveraged use of limited CHA funds.
“People don’t seem to realize, especially those who haven’t had to rent in a long time, that in this county [rental deposits] are like $4,000 that people have to come up with [to get into a rental unit].”
“That’s a lot of money that people, who could otherwise afford the monthly rent, don’t have,” said Gray.
What’s Next for the CHA?
Looking at the highlights in this post, it’s clear that the small team at the Chaffee Housing Authority is running fast and working hard. Yet with a steadily increasing cost of housing and backlog for nearly 500 units of workforce housing in the county, it appears to be a multi-year marathon and not a sprint.
The questions remains: will there be continued and consistent funding as well as wider coverage (including the Town of Poncha Springs) to pull out ahead? Can the county gain (and keep gaining) ground in the housing crisis?
While not all may agree on the proposed property tax funding mechanism contained in ballot issue 6A, there aren’t many other suggestions to provide fairness in funding. Workforce housing is a crisis that affects not just those who are without any housing (or “merely” housing-burdened). Those fortunate to be housed and the businesses that need employers to work for them and keep our community vibrant, diverse and economically viable are impacted as well.
Featured image: Chaffee Housing Authority staff presents its new logo. Left to Right: Kelly Landau, Grant Evaluator; Lisa Martin, We Are Chaffee Coordinator; Becky Gray, Director; Mike Bischoff, Deputy Director; Becky Longberg, Housing Navigator. Photo courtesy CHA