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The County Confronts Its Critical Workforce Housing Challenges

Earlier this week, the Chaffee Office of Housing Executive Director Becky Gray presented a public recap before the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners, recapping some of the accomplishments of the Office of Housing and the formation this year of the county’s Multi-Jurisdictional Housing Authority (MJHA). The MJHA was created and funded by Chaffee County, the city of Salida and the town of Buena Vista to address the county’s critical workforce housing shortages.

Gray noted the MJHA board is planning a housing authority celebration around March 11, to raise awareness of the importance of housing stock goals on which it is focused.  It currently has two open board seats: one representing Salida, another an at-large board position.

Courtesy image.

“Much of our attention has focused on the health disparities community grant that has funded awareness efforts this year, and the new program will launch Jan. 1,” said Gray. “We’re supporting the Chaffee Storytelling initiative run by Lisa Martin, and a storytelling workshop training for a local facilitator. Then we plan to institutionalize them within the CMC programs.”

She added that in the first quarter, 2022, the Office of Housing hopes to do another “dinner and a movie” event; the next one relating to local policies and systems as to whether they help or hinder housing [efforts]. The office is also looking for interpretation and translation services to meet minority needs, particularly Spanish-speaking.

“We want to establish a continuum of care – call it COC,” explained Gray.”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 have homeless prevention funding.”

She explained that that homeless prevention funding is used to relocate tenants getting displaced, to help keep people in housing. In a county where the population is changing fast and housing stock is being purchased by those new to the community who immediately raise rents –that support is important to displaced, current residents.

Also through the health disparities grant, the MJHA is at twork on a publically-managed website with the goal of assembling the resource information all in one place. “Presently they are available on Facebook (FB) groups – but they are not in a publically-funded site with public oversight,” said Gray. While FB is widely used, it’s not used by everybody, and our goal is to increase access to resources.”

Becky Gray, Chaffee County Director of Housing. Photo Courtesy Chaffee County Housing + Health Initiative

Development work of the Office of Housing and the MJHA

Several projects are underway, or under consideration or adjustment. Gray notes they include:

  • A contract for a residential boarding house concept originally planned for the Poncha Lodge in Poncha Springs has been terminated by the MJHA. Town leadership decided that the use of a commercial location for residential use is not appropriate.
  • Jane’s Place — a request for proposal is being prepared for a construction contractor with a decision to be made by early March. “The goal is to get a contractor ready to break ground in May or June,” Gray explained. “We’re meeting with [County engineer] Gary Griener to talk about the county’s RFP process, to see how we can work together.”
  • The Chaffee Planning Collaborative Initiative was launched with last year’s health disparity program – it gathered professional planners together to focus on combining forces and use Geographic Information System (GIS) [data] collaboratively. “Because of that we got contacted by GIS Colorado – they are going to host their annual meeting Jan. 27-28 in Salida with a full day of training, she said. “This group beginning to talk about comprehensive planning around housing and infrastructure at the Rodeo grounds [the gap in infrastructure focused on the area around Rodeo Drive in Buena Vista).”
  • Chaffee South End — discussions are ongoing with the Economic Development Corp, the county principal planner, and Salida School district Board to discuss the county-owned land by the fairgrounds and how it might be built out. Important to the discussion is understanding and resolving the wastewater setup between Salida and Poncha Springs. A collaborative approach to the infrastructure…be prepared to apply for shovel-ready projects better positioned to get the new federal funding.
  • Salida Housing Development Corporation – The Office of Housing notes there are five acres in Poncha Springs that long-term could become developed with a low-income tax credit for a 50-unit apartment complex. “We’re not applying this year, we’re terminating our contract with the original developer, and once it’s terminated, then we’ll decide what to do next. I like the Jane’s Place design based on community input and we think an approach like this would have more support in Poncha Springs. We’re also having more conversations about deed restrictions [keeping units permanently affordable].”
  • Fading West – The developer of The Farm has indicated that they want to do more deed-restricted housing units in their development. The MJHA is evaluating a potential partnership with a 75-unit apartment complex in The Farm, with deed restrictions as a tool for maintaining more affordability within the development.
  • The Colorado Mountain Housing Coalition – Gray noted that she is president, and the annual meeting of this housing coalition will be held at the Mt. Princeton Conference Center in April 2022. “This is our housing leadership from rural mountain communities, meeting to discuss what has happened since the pandemic….and looking ahead to 2023.”

Gray acknowledged a question by Commissioner Rusty Granzella regarding the Teller Apartments and the county’s need to keep them permanently affordable/low-income units.