Basalt ponders bigger role in building affordable housing before it’s too late
Latest study said there is 1,000-unit shortfall for households at 80% or less of Area Median Income
Basalt’s affordable housing commission has been hamstrung by a lack of funding from being able to make much of a dent in the need for residences since it was formed in 2009.
That could change by the end of 2021. At a time when property values are far outpacing increases in wages, Basalt is exploring ways to play a bigger role in adding affordable housing.
The town government recently launched a facilities needs process where it will collect citizen input on the types of projects it should undertake, then come up with a priority list. In theory, it could ask voters to approve funding for the wish list of projects in November by extending property taxes that are set to expire when bonds are paid off in coming years.
In past community surveys, a substantial number of residents have said the town government should get involved in providing affordable housing.
Cathy Click, chair of BACH, told Town Council during a housing discussion Tuesday night that the commission’s primary role has been limited to advising developers on what type of housing is most needed.
“We have to be creative because we don’t have any subsidization available through the town to bring down land costs or (reduce) costs of building a home,” Click said. “So our role really is to try to advise developers and developments as they come before us what we believe the needs are based on the last housing study, which is from 2018.
“We are somewhat restricted by the fact that we’re not a developer and we’re not like (the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority), we’re not able to build units ourselves,” she added.
Like the rest of the Roaring Fork Valley, Basalt faces a huge deficit of affordable housing and it is getting worse. The median single-family home sales price in Basalt topped $1 million by October 2019, according to the Basalt 2020 Master Plan. That was up 27% from the 2015 median price, based on data from the Aspen Board of Realtors.
The median sales price for a Basalt townhouse and condominium was $565,000 by October 2019.
Prices in all housing categories have been soaring and inventory shrinking since then, with just a brief pause at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A needs assessment called the 2019 Greater Roaring Fork Regional Housing Study estimated that Basalt is currently short about 1,000 units for housing attainable for households making 80% or less of the Area Median Income. The deficit was 1,600 units for households under 120% of AMI, the study said.
Basalt has made a modest effort at chipping away at the housing need, mostly through requiring developers to provide deed-restricted or rent-controlled housing.
The town government owns 13 affordable housing units. There are another 213 units that are rented or owned that were built by private parties but in Basalt’s affordable housing inventory.
One unique project was Basalt Vista, 27 units built by Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork in partnership with the governments of Basalt and Pitkin County as well as Roaring Fork School District. Those units were sold to qualified buyers.
Basalt Councilman Bill Infante said he would like to see funds made available to allow BACH to help organize similar partnerships to get affordable housing built.
“It’s precisely the exploration of subsidies or incentives for the private sector that the town should be exploring, in my opinion,” he said, pointing to Basalt Vista as a model for future efforts.
“I am very much not in favor of us building, owning or operating affordable housing,” Infante continued. “We have not had a great track record in Basalt with our own ownership of units, but spending taxpayer resources for the purpose of providing subsidies and incentives to and for the private sector is something I would hope BACH would explore. If you guys can come up with ideas, no matter how audacious, we can consider them and I would argue that the timing is right, right now.”
Pursuit of affordable housing, he said, would be a “very legitimate use of bond proceeds.”
The facilities needs process, including citizen input, will be undertaken throughout spring and summer.
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