Eagle County commits $5.4 million to address housing crisis
9-part action plan includes both for-sale and rental units
On Tuesday the Eagle County Board of Commissioners took a bold step toward addressing the local housing crisis.
Procedurally, commissioners approved a supplemental budget that transfers $5.4 million from the county’s general fund to its housing fund. Operationally, commissioners agreed to fund a series of programs — officially called Bold Housing Moves — designed to chip away at the local housing issue.
“I like it that this solution doesn’t try to build our way out of this crisis,” said Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry. She noted that building the number of needed new housing units would take several years and several million dollars and, put simply, the county doesn’t have that kind of money or that amount of time. But local officials have other tools to help local residents rent or purchase places they can call home.
“I think that (Bold Housing Moves) is a very appropriate name,” Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney said. “It is gong to be a rough and tumble few months.”
There are nine components included in the Bold program — including the addition of another housing department employee to help administer the new offerings. The Bold plan will launch immediately and it includes building on current successes such as the county’s down payment assistance and buy down programs.
The plan will provide an additional $400,000 for down payment assistance and adjust the parameters. Down payment assistance will be available for up to 5% of total loans of up to $625,000. Eagle County Housing Director Kim Bell Williams noted that the existing down payment program is a well-known and well-used tool for county residents trying to purchase a home.
The buy down program provides up front money to buyers in exchange for adding price cap or resident-occupied deed restrictions to the property they are purchasing. The new program parameters increase the maximum purchase price for a unit to $850,000 and increase the maximum buy down amount to $125,000. A total of $2 million has been allocated to expand the program and it will launch in August.
But Bold moves aren’t restricted to current options. There’s also funding for some brand-new ideas.
Accessory units and cash offers
Two of the main components of the current housing crisis are scarcity and demand. Two of the new Bold programs target those issues.
The first seeks to incentivize current homeowners to maximize use of their property by providing funding to build accessory dwelling units — commonly referred to as mother-in-law apartments.
The proposal notes that it may be relatively easy to increase the number of available rental units by making low or no interest loans available to current homeowners to finance construction of accessory units. For example, the money could pay for installation of a secondary kitchen or a new outdoor entrance. In exchange for the loan, the homeowner would agree to rent the newly created unit to an eligible local household.
“Loans do work,” Williams said, noting the repayment option for the accessory unit program could be structured similar to current down payment loans. Those debts are paid back over a longer period of time and paid off completely at the time of resale.
The commissioners noted that one drawback to this proposal is some local homeowners associations prohibit accessory units.
“Do you think that some of those restrictions can be lifted, that homeowners associations could say they are going to change their minds about this?” asked Chandler-Henry.
Williams noted the program will require due diligence all around — from the county and loan applicants — before construction funding is approved. The county earmarked $150,000 for the program in 2021 and the proposed launch date is October.
Another new effort targets the local housing demand issue. Williams noted that many local residents who are qualified to participate in down payment assistance or buy back programs are edged out by all cash offers on the open market.
Through this program, the county would serve as an interim, all-cash buyer. The eligible household would then purchase the unit from the county and deed restrictions would be attached to the property.
This proposal works for both buyers and sellers, said Williams. “We have had a number of local people who want to sell into this program,” she said.
“I think community members may be excited about this program. It takes a lot of stress off their plate when selling a home,” Chandler-Henry said.
The county has allocated $2.5 million to the cash offer assistance program for 2021 and wants to launch the program in September.
The county’s housing focus isn’t restricted to for-sale properties. Rental unit efforts include providing loans to help tenants cover first and last month payments and addressing the short-term rental market.
Williams noted that many people who previously rented units to long-term tenants have transitioned to short-term rentals — sites such as Airbnb or VRBO. The county would like to pull some of those units back into the long-term rental pool.
“Our program would provide property maintenance services and other services to incentivize people,” she said. The county has earmarked $150,000 for this work, proposed for a September launch.
Homeless stability grant
This part of the housing department’s Bold plan spends federal dollars instead of county funding. The federal grant is part of CARES Act efforts to provide street outreach, temporary emergency shelter and rapid housing. The grant totals $637,650.
“This is the first time we have received funds for this type of work,” Williams said.
Williams said the county is partnering with local entities to launch the homelessness work — groups such as Salvation Army, American Red Cross and Catholic Charities — that have been working to help struggling locals find shelter. Williams said local entities have already identified 60 people who need their services on a regular basis.
“Just because we don’t see people on the street doesn’t mean that people aren’t struggling with homelessness,” noted Chandler-Henry.
The homeless stability grant program will launch in August. “The money is here so we are looking for partners to spend it,” said Williams. “Our contracts should be signed in the next week or two.”
‘The big missing piece’
While, as noted, the county can’t build its way out of the housing crisis, the creation of new units is an obvious need.
“The big missing piece is working with the development community to provide more units,” noted Eagle County Finance Director Jill Klosterman. “We get phone calls from developers all the time, but we don’t think there are any projects ready to put into the budget today. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be any in the future.”
Because of that uncertainty, the 2021 Bold plan doesn’t earmark money for new construction. “It’s missing because we aren’t ready today,” Klosterman said.
But the other $5.4 million is ready to go out the door within the next few weeks.
“This is exciting,” Chandler-Henry said. “It almost makes your feel like going out to brag that we are actually doing something about the housing crisis.”
To learn more about the county’s new and existing programs, visit TheValleyHomeStore.org.