The Chaffee County Housing Policy Advisory Committee met in Poncha Springs on Sept. 6 to chart its next actions, which include developing a county-wide data source of both housing needs, perhaps working with a university with an on-going internship relationship. Updating the county rental unit inventory data and beginning to develop a scorecard to rate how well a development project addresses the county’s housing needs are two other HPAC action steps identified during the session.
The monthly meeting draws together volunteer participation representing Chaffee County Office of Housing and Public Health, municipalities across the county, and various agencies with an active interest in safe, affordable workforce housing. The session followed a lively month in which HPAC hosted an information session about the Salida Crossings condominium project and saw the county choose to focus its ballot question in the November general election on conservation programs rather than housing. Around 60 people, many of them undecided voters, attended the public forum regarding Salida Crossings.
“We got some undecided voters and had a lot of people asking why HPAC wasn’t supporting the Salida Crossings project,” said HPAC member Paige Judd, one of the public forum organizers. “I think our job is to educate the public about potential projects. I don’t think we should support winners and losers because HPAC doesn’t yet have a voting process to decide to support a specific project.”
With HPAC sounding the alarm about the county’s growing shortage of both rental units and affordable for-purchase housing, it has been a driving force for creation of an intergovernmental agreement between the county and its municipalities, Salida, Poncha Springs and Buena Vista, to encourage the creation of workforce housing. With that agreement in place, the county moved to provide two year’s worth of funding for an Office of Housing, and hired the county’s first housing director, Becky Grey, who arrived in June. The county is slowly taking the steps that could lead to a multi-jurisdictional housing authority.
The focus on housing is no accident. HPAC formed in the summer of 2016 immediately following the release of the 2016 Housing Assessment, which revealed a severe and growing shortage of affordable housing in Chaffee County. A survey this spring, at the end of the year-long county Envision process, revealed that housing is one of the top two concerns for a majority of survey respondents (along with fire mitigation, according to 78 percent of respondents).
HPAC members say the housing shortage is the result of several factors. “It’s people coming here and buying housing stock as second homes. It’s rental units being turned into short-term vacation rentals. It’s active retirees moving here. It’s a growing young population coming here to work and live,” said HPAC member Read McCulloch. “This is all compounded by the fact that nothing was built during the recession for 10 years, so demand is through the roof. There’s no housing stock, and all of it is continuing to drive up housing prices.”
One of the discussion items centered on how to hold developers accountable. “Could we apply an industrial revenue bond act to someone who said they were going to apply a 60-percent AMI housing bond, and then a few years out we look at whether they kept their word,” asked Buena Vista Planner Robert Messenger. “It would be teeth to allow us to follow up on whether they are meeting their obligations.”
Grey agreed that a “recapture clause” should be part of a development agreement to ensure that the developer does what is agreed to and the quality of the housing stock is maintained. McCulloch added that creating an enforceable agreement should be a county-wide standard.
Grey is in the process of developing county housing strategies, aided by a steering committee of municipal and county elected officials. “So far we’ve focused on three strategic goals that have come directly from the housing assessment findings and earlier HPAC work … it’s not too early for this group (HPAC) to come up with suggestions for deed restrictions and guidelines, but it is too early for the Office of Housing to manage any deed restrictions.” The new office is not yet ready and the county has not made a formal decision to move to a multi-jurisdictional housing authority.
HPAC members agreed that development of a scorecard to rate how developers meet county standards will require input from HPAC members, elected officials and developers, and should also include the community. “A first order of business is to establish the criteria (to ensure affordable housing is built),” said Grey. “For instance, if we know we need housing at 60 percent AMI (Average Median Income) and we see a specific development project provides this many units, then we can make a statement based on the housing criteria we establish, that yes, this developer addresses this 60 percent AMI standard.”
Future HPAC meeting topics will include how to address housing during development of a new comprehensive plan, dealing with sub-standard housing stock, and beginning to map the policies and processes by which HPAC will act in an advisory capacity to the Chaffee County Office of Housing. Interested citizens are invited to participate. The next HPAC meeting will be 9 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 11, at Colorado Mountain College in Buena Vista.