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Chaffee County isn’t creating enough housing to answer the growing workforce housing challenge; requiring both public and private efforts to solve. Housing is a social challenge if you live where there isn’t enough housing to go around. It is a crisis if you are the person searching for stable, affordable housing for your family.


As the 2016 Housing Assessment revealed, and follow-up polls have reinforced, affordable housing consistently polls as the leading concern of citizens in Chaffee County. This includes the poll released Aug. 13 by Envision Chaffee County, which conducted a year-long assessment of the needs and concerns of Chaffee County citizens. (The top two concerns, within a single point of each other, were forest health/water quality/rural landscapes and housing.)


One startling fact: there are 2,400 cost-burdened households across this county earning less than 60-percent of the average median income (pg. 41, CCHNA). According to Data U.S.A, households in Chaffee County have a median annual income of  $50,993; sixty percent of that average is $30,596, making the idea of home ownership seem like an impossible dream.


Salida will come face-to-face with its workforce housing shortage as it considers a ballot initiative on the Salida Crossings project, a planned development of 122 owned units on 3.15 acres proposed by developer Duane Cozart, on land currently zoned C-1 (Commercial District) located at 1520 Highway 50, Salida. The proposed project is a mixed-use development, including retail, office and residential use. A citizen petition raised questions about the project’s building height, residential density, parking and related standards, instigating the ballot measure that is the subject of the September special election.


“I want people to know that (with Salida Crossings) it is our purpose to bring not just to Salida but to the area in general, one of what we hope are several housing solutions so that generations can carry on in the area,” said Cozart.” We also want to help people who work, live and play in Salida to have a place to call their own.”


Cozart said that having talked with dozens of the city’s “old guard” in the last few weeks, he is hearing something odd. “What’s interesting is that on one hand they say, ‘we don’t want to see Salida change and that’s what we’re upset about; that things are changing.’ But on the other hand, one after the other will tell me, ‘my children had to leave the area because they couldn’t afford to live here.’ It’s a complete contradiction – it’s like they aren’t listening to themselves talk.”


Cozart says that every month the project is delayed raises the price of construction and, ultimately, the unit prices, but his commitment to affordable housing is sincere. “We are dedicated to keeping our starting phase 1 units at $134,900, no matter how much our costs go up,” said Cozart. “Then, beyond that, it’s difficult to gauge due to the delays; I can’t discuss pricing because this has dragged out so long at this point it will be April before we can begin to lay concrete.”


While some believe that private enterprise can take care of the entire housing problem, research conducted by experts says that Colorado’s housing affordability challenges are complex and will not be solved overnight or solely by private enterprise. Plenty of people have weighed in.


”Over the past 15 months I have been the host of the Chaffee Housing Report on KHEN radio, Salida,” said Ken Matthews, a member of the Housing Policy Advisory Committee and a Chaffee Housing Trust board member. “In that time, our diverse guests have included city and county elected leaders; candidates for Salida City Council and Mayor; housing policy experts; low-income and open-market housing developers; Chaffee County economic development leaders; advocates who need housing options for domestic violence victims; employers facing workforce shortages due to lack of affordable housing; affordable housing advocates and experts; and conservationists concerned about the protection of open space, natural habitat, wildlife, and views – all potentially affected by housing policies or the lack thereof to address housing needs.”


Matthews says the swirl of misinformation being passed around the community has obscured real housing realities, particularly in Salida.  “During my time studying attempts for affordable housing in Salida, there has been no private projects proposed that would produce any units selling as low as 64 percent AMI, or any that could produce 106 homes between 64 to 120 percent AMI (with a qualifying income of $30,160 to $56,550)


“None of them come anywhere near the diversity of income of its residents. This project provides substantially more parking than required by code, and it includes a commercial/residential mix. It’s easily walkable and bikeable to downtown Salida.”


Cozart is clear about what he thinks defeat of the ballot initiative would mean. “What we’re doing can turn people into homeowners. If this gets shut down, it will be to the detriment of the entire area. … There is a lot at stake here.”


Some factors to consider when planning workforce housing:

1. Does the project provide rental units or ownership units to those at lower AMI levels?
2. Does the project provide restrictions to protect the long-term affordability of the units?
3. Is the project being built in a dense area where infrastructure already exists (water, sewer)?
4. Is the housing close in proximity to jobs, schools, grocery stores and childcare?
5. Does the housing help preserve our rural landscapes?
6. Is the project in close proximity to public health and medical services?
7. If public funds are not available through the city or county to build affordable housing, should private developers be supported to do so?