As Chaffee County continues its rapid population growth, housing prices are following suit. For many, the price of purchasing a home within Chaffee County is far outside of their means. Renting is an option, although rent costs continue to climb as well.

So how do low-income individuals and families cope with the ballooning costs of residing in Chaffee County? The Chaffee Housing Trust may have an answer. A non-profit organization formed over a decade ago, that it exists is a direct response to rising housing costs and an uptick in county population.

The mission reads: “The Chaffee Housing Trust is committed to promoting responsible community development by providing affordable and sustainable home ownership and rentals to qualifying residents.”

“The idea is that we use the community land trust model to create affordable home ownership,” explained Chaffee Housing Trust’s Executive Director, Read McCulloch. “We as an organization acquire land, build homes and sell those homes, but hold title to the land.”

The Chaffee Housing Trust only sells homes to those who fall below the 80 percent Area Median Income (AMI) limit. Those who are at the 80 percent limit are considered low-income. For an individual, $38,160 marks the 80 percent AMI limit. This means that individuals who make $38,160 or less qualify as below the 80 percent limit.

The AMI limit increases as the household size does. A family of two must make, at most, $43,600 to qualify. For a family of three, the limit increases to $49,040. That is, any household that makes $49,040 or less qualifies as below the 80 percent AMI. For a family of four, the 80 percent AMI limit is set at $54,480. Currently, The Farm in Buena Vista and the Two Rivers project in Salida headline the Chaffee Housing Trust’s efforts to provide affordable homes.

The Chaffee Housing Trust initiates the buying process by purchasing the land and beginning home construction. Simultaneously, the Chaffee Housing Trust offers counseling and coaching services, free of charge, to prospective home buyers.

“One of the key services we provide is working with homeowners, from square one, to clear up their credit, going through the mortgage application process and getting their mortgage approved,” explained McCulloch. “We have a wait list of about 100 folks. I’d say about a dozen of those folks are in the process of getting their credit cleaned up and are anticipating buying.”

Chaffee Housing Trust homeowners can sell their home. However, in order to preserve the affordability of their low-income housing, sellers can realize only 25 percent of the market appreciation from their initial purchase.

“Whatever value the property in question gains based on the market, the seller will walk away with 25 percent,” McCulloch explained. This allows us to sell the home to the next buyer and they will only pay what the original buyer paid plus 25 percent. When we build the home, I bring grants and whatever I can bring to bear to lower the price of the home to make it affordable. Each subsequent sale is maintained as affordable through the formula.”

The seller then can take the 25 percent gain from the sale and pursue another home on the open market.

“We call these stepping-stone homes,” said McCulloch. “It gets people out of rentals, and into building equity for their family. Then if they choose to, they can sell. The seller should have enough money to go into the open market.”

McCulloch pointed out that these programs are used around the country, more often in urban The programs have just begun to be applied in rural areas. “Organizations have been doing this for 30 years. Studies show that 70 percent of sellers are [then] able to get out into the open market.”

Currently, there is funding for five affordable units within The Farm. One of Chaffee Housing Trust’s units is going to closing with a buyer later this month. Two Rivers already has six homes owned and occupied by low-income families.

Chaffee Housing Trust is looking to fill five houses at The Farm at Buena Vista. (Photo Courtesy of Fading West Development)

McCulloch says that families are flocking to Chaffee County communities seeking a future. The longevity of those communities demands that these families have security and stability to become active members within their communities.

“We are trying to create community stability; for the community and for families,” stated McCulloch. “Part of that answer is providing home ownership to people who qualify, have stable income, and want to make this their home. We give them the opportunity to have that stability and that security of place so they can become part of the community. If you’re priced out, you don’t get to do that. A big goal of ours is to help create community and be invested in the community.”

McCulloch points out that many of the businesses and organizations in Buena Vista and Salida depend on workers filling low-paying roles. Without stable housing, he asks, how can the individuals that form the backbone of our workforce live stable lives?

“For renters around here, they don’t know where they are going next. They don’t know whether they will get booted out, rent will go through the roof, or [their home] will become a vacation rental,” said McCulloch. “For some folks, that insecurity is perpetual. These are a lot of our workforce. They are in the tourism industry, working for camps, you name it. If those folks aren’t stable, then what happens to our local economy?”

The Chaffee Housing Trust is designed to give their homeowners a stake in the organization and the future of housing in Chaffee County.

“Our Board of Directors is run by locals,” said McCulloch. “One-third of our board must be low-income homeowners or low-income representatives. The actual homeowners have a say in running the organization.”

The Board of Directors also seats government representatives at county and municipal levels. County Commissioner Keith Baker currently sits on the board, as does Salida Planning Commission Board Chair, Greg Follet. Currently, Buena Vista does not have a representative occupying a spot on the Board of Directors, although Buena Vista Trustee Libby Fay is active in the organization.