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Chaffee County officials have begun the process of filling the newly-created role of Chaffee County housing director. The new housing director will lead the county-wide effort to develop solutions to address the local housing shortage. Applications will be accepted until Feb. 16 with the expectation of a mid to late March interview period.

“We’ve cast a wide net for that role with state, county and local governments, and we’ve sent that offer out every way we know – into the Mountain West and into the Plains and the Inter-basin West,” said county Administrator Bob Christiansen.

“We’ve received seven qualified applications out of nine to date. Given the number of submittals to date … we will allow for another two to three weeks to see if we get any more applications in the extended time frame.”

Funded for the next two years by the county, the new position represents another step in the actions recommended by the Chaffee County Housing Policy Advisory Committee, which organized in 2016 following the release of the county’s housing needs assessment survey. The all-volunteer group works to identify strategies and actions to address the county’s housing challenges.

The county’s housing needs are especially critical for what some call “affordable housing,” meaning housing that costs no more than 30 percent of that household’s take-home pay. For people working at or just above the minimum wage, housing in Chaffee County – where one-bedroom apartments can go for $1,400 per month – is out of reach.

“In one word, the county’s need is immense,” said Chaffee County Commissioner Keith Baker. “To quantify this, what the Aug. 26, 2016, Housing Needs Assessment told us is that we need to add 25 to 30 affordable housing units each year for the next 10 years just to catch up with the current need.

“To keep up with the 10-percent employment growth we are expecting, we need to add another 15-20 units for those earning 60 percent or less of average median income. Plus, we need to add five units per year for those earning 60-80 percent AMI and another five units per year for those earning 80-120 percent AMI.”

“Community housing,” another name for affordable housing, is gaining traction across the Central Colorado mountains. The term acknowledges that the growth of second-home ownership and short-term rentals in rural and recreational counties is stressing local housing markets that need housing for their workforces.

“What is truly needed,” said Baker, “is housing for members of the county’s communities. … We need those who work here to be able to afford to live where they work.”

Among its first actions, HPAC divided into work groups focused on addressing the housing needs identified by the needs assessment. These ranged from a group focused on housing solutions for those making below 60 percent of AMI to a group ideating developer incentives to build community housing, which requires addressing a wide range of conflicting construction and land-use requirements. Another group focused on deed restrictions as a way to create permanently affordable housing.

The advisory committee is tackling the awareness gap through community education efforts. “Through the HPAC, connections are being created across Chaffee County in support of creating a diverse housing stock,” said Kimberly Parker, the housing victim advocate at the Alliance (Against Domestic Abuse), which is an HPAC member.

“Each municipality and the county are working on different parts of the housing solution, and that work is shared at the monthly meetings. Cross-collaboration is a major benefit of this group. Other members are committing time toward projects undertaken by the working groups, and some are attending important community meetings to share what the HPAC is doing and reduce duplication of effort.”

The advisory committee spent months this past winter working out the framework of an intergovernmental agreement to address countywide housing needs. Every municipality in the county has agreed to support the housing IGA.

“It’s received unanimous approval from every county municipality,” said Baker. “The last to sign on was Poncha Springs, but they were unanimous in their support. They all see the need.”

Members of HPAC hope to have a draft framework of a housing plan in place for review by the new Chaffee County housing director, once the position is filled. A key responsibility for the new housing director will be finalizing an actionable, regional housing plan.

“I want to emphasize how critical it is to the success of these housing efforts that a regional housing plan be developed, and I look forward to working with the soon-to-be-incoming housing director,” said Parker. “I’m proud to be a part of this once ad-hoc group that is gaining structure and momentum.”