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Chaffee voters resoundingly rejected Chaffee Ballot Issue 6A, based on unofficial ballot results from the Chaffee County Clerk and Recorder late Tuesday evening, revealing a distaste to continue to use property taxes to solve the county’s workforce housing crisis.

If voters had approved it, it would have provided a firm footing for the Chaffee Housing Authority to continue its operation past its current financial underpinnings provided by the county, the city of Salida and the town of Buena Vista, which sunset at the end of 2023.

Chaffee Housing Authority staff.. 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

The ballot question would have authorized a 3.5 mills property tax increase that would raise $2.2million to fund the countywide efforts to increase affordable housing.

With massive late voter turnout across the county, the Chaffee Clerk and Recorders Office was still finalizing the unofficial results at 10:00 p.m. Tuesday  and absentee and military ballots are still coming in. The unofficial tell a story that residents are leery of property tax increases:

Yes          3,241

No          7,292

But Chaffee voters did approve Chaffee Ballot Question 1A which expanded the use of the existing lodging tax of one and 9/10th of a percent (1.9 percent) on the rental fee price, or other consideration paid or charged for the leasing, rental, sale or furnishing of a room or accommodation for a short-term period (a period of less than 30 consecutive days) across Chaffee County, including its municipalities.

Yes     7,031

No     3,944

Salida Bottling Ballot Question

At the same time, voters in Salida appear to have narrowly rejected Ordinance 2022-06  which approved the Salida Bottling Company development of property it owns in downtown Salida, which would have included some income-restricted affordable housing units in the mixed use development. The city council had held exhaustive public hearings and requested adjustments to the plan prior to approval, but a conservative group launched a campaign against the project, which has provided free parking in the downtown area for years, but given the owner no return on investment.

Again, this is an unofficial vote, with absentee and military votes still out:

Yes:  1,412

No    1,748

The county’s housing crisis has been front and center in countless public meetings and ideation sessions. Image from Chaffee Comprehensive Plan meetings.

The impacts on housing across Chaffee County

The result across Chaffee County, it appears, could be a population still unwilling to accept the housing crisis it is facing, or at least unwilling to accept the investment necessary to mitigate the growing workforce housing shortage that surfaced as early as 2016.

Speaking with the Chaffee Office of Housing Director Becky Gray on Tuesday, she said “we’ve done three budgets for 2023. we honestly don’t know what is going to happen.”

But earlier that day addressing the recent housing crisis for all residents of The Meadows In Buena Vista apartment complex, whose new owner has doubled and in some cases tripled the rent for a dozen resident households, Gray gave a sobering assessment, telling Ark Valley Voice, “This is the fallout. The housing marketplace is not going to solve this,” said Gray. “This is an ongoing situation. We are seeing a striking increase in first-time homeless households. They aren’t doing anything wrong … they are victims of the marketplace realities.”

Voters may have rejected the proposed solutions, but that does not mean that this community doesn’t face a three-pronged reality that cannot be ignored: first — how fast the housing situation has changed. Second — how vulnerable it has left a large percent of our population, and third that the marketplace is simply not providing market solutions.

The county’s housing needs are not going to disappear. According to the 2022 Housing Needs Assessment (HNA), recently adopted by the Chaffee Housing Authority, to stabilize the Chaffee County workforce and keep up with future housing demands, 1,105 new homes are needed over the next five years.

Of the 1,105 housing units required, 435 units are needed now just to catch up with latent demand, and 670 units are needed through 2027 to address job growth and retirements.

What happens next as the county regroups? Stay tuned.