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This past week, Ark Valley Voice began a review of the challenges the county and its municipalities face in addressing the serious shortage of affordable housing in the valley for its workforce.

Our very quality of life is dependent upon housing that works for the workforce — not just for second homeowners and the wealthy. Without building in protections to require and encourage the building of workforce housing — it won’t exist here.

“I hope we can accomplish a lot when it comes to housing. It’s supposed to be 30 percent of their income, but in this county it’s 50 percent [of their income] said the President of the local BETCH group Salty Riggs. BETCH stands for “Bringing Everyone Together Through the Crisis of Housing,” and the group is making a cohesive effort to educate county residents regarding the housing situation being faced by its average workers.

505 Oak Street parcel proposed for planned development overlay in Salida. Image courtesy Salida Planning Commission

Riggs recently explained to the Chaffee BoCC that the groups she leads (both a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and a 501(c)(4) that does advocacy) are helping Salida area workers with rising rents. “The (c)(3) is for helping people with rent. We do fund-raisers and we’ve helped with about $15,000 in rent support this year.”

In October 2022, Salida Community Development Director Bill Almquist wrote a guest piece for Ark Valley Voice in which he laid out what he called “The dirty little secrets of permanently-affordable housing” that presents the truths for anyone attempting to build housing right now in this county. It simply isn’t cheap to build or remodel. If you haven’t read it, click on the link and read Almquist’s wisdom on this.

A terminology explanation here: there are several terms being used interchangeably that might confuse some folks:

  • Workforce housing — a broad term being used for housing several workforce categories, from servers and cooks in restaurants to our police departments, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and teachers.
  • Affordable housing — otherwise called “attainable housing.” This is housing that is often defined as housing that costs no more than 30 percent of a worker or family’s total income.
  • “Inclusionary housing” — refers to a range of local policies that tap the economic gains from rising real estate values to create affordable housing opportunities for low- or moderate-income households. Done right, inclusionary housing can meaningfully advance economic and racial equity.

Location of proposed 505 Oak Street planned development in Salida. New Salida Fire station property is immediately below blue highlighted 505 Oak parcel. Image courtesy Chaffee County Assessor

As laid out in the AVV Workforce Housing story earlier this week, in order to ensure there are units in Salida, and in this county for our teachers, nurses, police officers, and firefighters to live — local governmental entities have to have the negotiating flexibility to offer developers the proverbial carrots to build workforce housing units.

Developer John Diesslin, who was born and grew up here, said that there are builders in the county trying to do the right thing and build affordable housing, but it isn’t easy.

“We’re cautious,” he said in a conversation just before Christmas. “We’ve done so much development in Poncha Springs. We’ve built 130 housing units in just the past two years. We do a lot around here. But it seems like the more you raise your hand to point that out, the more people throw rocks at you.”

He paused and added “We’re finishing our second phase of 64 apartments in Poncha this weekend  and those rents will be below 80 percent AMI (Area Median Income).”

Diesslin and Kent Townsend, his partner on a construction proposal for 505 Oak Street in Salida, are concerned that there are misunderstandings about their planned development (PD) and explain why the requests were made. According to City Planner Kristi Jefferson, “the applicant’s requests in the PD are minimal” and are listed on page 95 of the city’s Dec. 6, 2022 meeting packet.

This is what the developer, who could as easily build high-end units as workforce housing units has requested:

  1. To increase the permitted number of units in the project from 37 to 44 units, an increase of 18.9 percent. Of the 44 units, the formula for the inclusionary housing requirement is 7.3 deed-restricted units.  The applicant will provide eight inclusionary units.
  2. To allow the minimum lot frontage to be on a HOA (Home Owners Association)-maintained private road within the development and in alignment with Chilcott Street.
  3. To reduce the minimum size requirement of seven multi-family rental lots from 5,063 square feet to range from 3,176 square feet to 4,207 square. feet. The eighth multi-family rental building will be 5,157 square feet and contain six deed-restricted rental units. Ten townhouse lots will exceed the minimum size requirements for such lots and include two deed-restricted for-sale lots. See page 98 of the packet.

The developer has willingly presented a Planned Development proposal to the city, which has brought about this attention. But the developer could have presented a “build by right” proposal of up to 37 condominiums without the need for an ordinance by Salida City Council.

Salida Mayor Dan Shore points out that “the 505 Oak Street project provides 34 of 44 units that are rentals.  These are one, two and three bedroom units that can house a total of up to 70 people, which is over one percent of the population of Salida. The 34 rentals will more likely go to people who work here.  Condominiums would more likely go to second home owners.”

He adds, “I understand that for some people, the notion of density creates anxiety. But if you really want to tackle workforce housing, you can’t without a willingness to pursue density.”

Signs point to the fact that the county and BV are working diligently toward increasing workforce housing (while Poncha Springs continues its aggressive, market-based housing strategy). But in Salida, some are beginning to sense that the population is not all pulling in the same direction.

The recent petition which became a ballot question regarding the Salida Bottling Company proposal for 323 West First Street, had been approved by Salida City Council after extensive public hearings. But the petitioners ignored the public process and instead launched a campaign to defeat it. While there are those who say that this means the city is rejecting density, the housing realities and the growing needs of the city’s workforce would seem to indicate otherwise.

Diesslin explained that, in this project, all of the rental units will be priced at 80-100 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI). “The units I’m building, my construction workers will be able to afford,” he said. “The 505 Oak Street proposal is targeted right at our workforce.”

Part III: Chaffee Workforce Housing Crisis is coming up next week.