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The topic of housing dominated the Salida City Council April 4 work session this week including “Safe Spaces” Summer Housing and Chaffee Housing Authority. A presentation by Public Works Director David Lady reviewed future street improvement capital projects.

Work Session Addresses Chaffee Housing Authority Future Funding

The Chaffee Housing Authority (CHA) Director Becky Gray and Board President Craig Nielson presented options on how the CHA might obtain $2 million to $4 million to achieve their four-pronged strategic plan, once interim funding from the county, Salida and Buena Vista expires in 2023.

The goal was to compare three options that might appear on a November 2022 ballot and gauge government and citizen response to the pros and cons of each.  The options currently include: a 4 mill property tax, a 0.25 percent sales tax increase and some combination of a user tax and license fees on short-term rentals.

Director Gray led off by noting noted that 64 percent of Chaffee County renters are spending more than 50 percent of their income on rent which makes them severely “housing-challenged”.  Currently, the CHA receives $300,000 in operational funding from three of four local jurisdictions.  A $2 million funding level might be allocated with $620,000 to Senior Housing, $760,000 to Workforce Housing, $260,000 to Down Payment Assistance, $280,000 to Operations and $80,000 for Rent Subsidies.

Council agreed on the need for ongoing funding but expressed some concerns, cited possible “tweaks” and stated their preferences.  Among them, Council Member Alisa Pappenfort felt that a property tax placed a burden for those on fixed incomes and she was not in favor of increasing general sales taxes.  Council Member Harald Kasper echoed that he believes sales taxes are already high (at 8.65 percent) and that taxes on Short-Term Rentals  (STRs) might be more appropriate in spreading the burden of visitors on housing affordability.

Treasurer Merrell Bergin noted that a 4 mill property tax levy is approximately the size of what voters approved for the Colorado Mountain College (CMC) district.  He suggested that the CHA also consider 3 mills as an option, which would still generate $2 million or more.

Both Gray and Nielson said that the impact/benefits of each option were hypothetical and meant to be for relative comparison purposes only. After making the rounds of the Board of County Commissioners and the Town of Buena Vista, they also have a tentative date to approach the Town of Poncha Springs to participate.  Given the combined feedback, they intend to fine-tune the options.

Salida Council members suggested possibilities, like a combination of some of the options as well as exempting certain aspects of a property tax for agricultural properties or those owned by senior citizens.  Treasurer Bergin concluded his input by saying that while there appeared to be support from Council for a ballot question, a stronger case needed to be made for what each option would actually buy.  There is a need for detailed budgets and to “paint a picture; make it ‘visual and visceral’ to show why and how much the voters should chip in,” he said.

“Safe Spaces” Summer 2022 Temporary Housing Options

Two options to help ease the summer season workforce housing crisis were presented by Development Director Bill Almquist and City Administrator Drew Nelson, both focusing on some form of workforce camping.  Almquist noted the challenges of securing unrestricted public property parcels large enough to meet the need, together with the current lack of basic services and the cost to furnish them on raw land as well as the timing crunch to get necessary approvals.

Touber Building in Salida showing Riverside Entrance, leading to Drivers License, Colorado Workforce Center, Veterans Services, Department of Vocational Rehabilitation and Public Health offices. Photo by Merrell Bergin

Nelson continued by suggesting a logical option that could be set up from May to October, using the parking lot at the rear of the Touber Building to accommodate up to 10 vehicles (size-limited, not RV’s) for local workers and overnight-only use.

The proposal would require approval by the Board of County Commissioners who share the Touber Building as well as a third-party administrator (like the BETCH Salida group).  The City would expect security to be provided by resources other than the Salida Police Department, whose ranks are stretched thin, especially during the summer tourist season.

It was noted that the Touber Building has indoor bathrooms, internet, and access to utilities to supplement outdoor facilities. Other services (Department of Human Services, Chaffee County Public Health, etc.) are available on this quiet site which has river views and is only four blocks from downtown.

During the council discussion, there was clear support that this option would be quick to implement and provide one piece of the puzzle for the looming summer season.  As a model, it might be expanded if successful, and encourage other property owners (like churches) to add to the available spaces, according to Almquist.

Trailers are being used at Heart of the Rockies Medical Center for temporary housing for their workers. Dan Smith photo

Regarding a second option, the Salida RV Resort on the east edge of town already has a certain number of spaces allocated with “affordable rents”. In addition to those, Almquist said that another idea might be for the City of Salida to purchase up to ten RVs that they would place at the Resort to add more housing for the local workforce.

Such a program could be administered by the Chaffee Housing Authority (CHA) or eventually thorough the City “Open Doors” program, once it gets launched.  Space rental would be $650/month plus a small fee of $100-250/month based on the size of the RV.  The site has full amenities and river views and is still close enough to downtown.

Almquist noted that used RVs (less than 5 years-old) might be available at an average of $25,000 each and that he had been in conversation with Holiday RV in Poncha Springs towards this end.  According to Almquist, the RVs would have a further life span of two to three years and are well suited (with additional skirting) for at least three-season use. According to Finance Director Aimee Tihonovich and Almquist, these could not be capitalized but might be sold to renters, or sold as surplus to recover some of the cost.

Treasurer Bergin asked what the funding source might be.  Nelson said that with clearance from the federal government, that ARPA funds might be a logical use for this.  “The math doesn’t really work in terms of the income you’re going to get and the fact that they might be scrap at the end of three years.  So if you have one-time funding that could be used for something like this, that makes a big difference” Bergin said.  Almquist added that this was meant to be a bridge program until other options are out there.

Council Member Kasper supported the idea, noting that his initial concerns about the upfront costs had been addressed [if the ARPA funding worked out].  Mayor Shore expressed a need to have a minimum number of people (at least two) per RV.  Almquist responded that the size of the unit affects the RV cost and the layout of each unit (if properly chosen), might allow for comfortable sleeping separation plus common space for multiple (even unrelated) people.  Other questions include: would pets be allowed and would small storage sheds be available for these RVs.

With general support across the council for the RV idea (in addition to the Touber Building overnight camping spaces), these ideas will continue to be explored at future meetings.