Affordable housing shortage hits Rifle | AspenTimes.com

Affordable housing shortage hits Rifle

Donna Gray
Glenwood Springs correspondent

Lack of affordable housing isn’t restricted to the Roaring Fork Valley. The problem has now drifted down the Colorado River valley ” all the way to Rifle.

“Up until two years ago I would say there was no [affordable housing] problem,” Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert said Friday at an affordable housing workshop in Glenwood Springs. “We were the affordable housing place in the county. But with the onslaught of [economic] development, we have a less-than-one-percent vacancy rate.”

Rifle is caught in the cross-hairs of burgeoning natural gas development that has brought a surge of new workers into the area. And it has also seen pressure from people moving from the more expensive housing markets upvalley looking for less expensive homes.

But no more. Rifle’s once affordable housing is now becoming out of reach for some of its key residents.

Lambert said the Rifle police chief recently asked the City Council to expand the area in which policemen can live to 60 miles from town to give them a chance to find housing in Grand Junction, which has more reasonable prices.

“We haven’t approved it yet, but it’s been a discussion,” he said.

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Coupled with higher home prices, construction can’t match demand.

“We have housing going up all the time, but it can’t keep up with the need,” he said.

Lack of affordable housing also has become a serious social issue for communities like Carbondale.

“Our community is really losing its soul,” said Town Trustee Scott Chaplin. “People born and raised there can’t afford to live there.”

Garfield County Commissioner Tresi Houpt agreed.

“We are going to lose a great sense of community … if we can’t preserve our diversity,” she said.

Beyond considering it a social issue, some governments are now looking at the need for affordable housing as an economic necessity.

Gunnison County Housing Authority Director Denise Wise told the group, “We look at housing as economic development policy.”

She said Gunnison County commissioners took a big step a few years ago when the commissioners approved a “workforce linkage fee” that imposes a 10-45 percent mitigation fee on new home construction. A 4,000-square-foot home, she said, in Crested Butte, for example, requires a $14,232 fee that goes into a county affordable housing fund that’s used to help people come up with a downpayment on a home and to construct affordable housing units.

Developers have paid the fee, but not “without kicking and screaming,” Wise said. “I’ve been called a socialist. I’ve been called a communist.”

The key to making affordable housing happen in a rural county like Gunnison, she added, is “political will.”