Gypsum eyes affordable housing program |

Gypsum eyes affordable housing program

GYPSUM, Colo. ” Gypsum has always been the Eagle River Valley where a working person ” be it a teacher, firefighter, tradesman or office employee ” might be able to afford a home.

But the skyrocketing prices of the past few years have had an impact in this community down the road from the Eagle County resorts of Vail and Beaver Creek. The median home price in Gypsum now hovers around $425,000.

That’s hardly a figure that classifies as “affordable.”

The town of Gypsum is the latest governmental entity to take on a worker housing program aimed at providing more affordable options and addressing Eagle County’s growing employee shortage.

The Gypsum model has been evolving over the past few months and will define who can purchase units and who, in turn, they can sell to in the future.

Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll credited town Councilman Tom Edwards for many of the ideas contained in the town’s proposed program. Shroll said the Gypsum model differs significantly from other affordable housing programs in the area because it focuses its restrictions on who buys the units, rather than on how much the unit can appreciate in value.

Town officials believe by limiting the pool of potential buyers, Gypsum will ensure that units remain affordable in future resales. Shroll said the free-market system should keep the deed-restricted units selling at a lower price than units without such restriction.

“We don’t want to get into price appreciation caps. We don’t like it or agree with it, fundamentally, in our community,” said Shroll.

The housing program in place in Aspen and Pitkin County uses both appreciation caps and restrictions on ownership, requiring buyers to qualify as local employees.

“I think it’s a very innovative program,” said Don Cohen, executive director of the Economic Council of Eagle County, of Gypsum’s proposed program. “Will it work? We really won’t know until we put it into practice and we see happens in a few years.”

Cohen commended Gypsum for stepping up to develop a workforce housing program, especially since the community has long been a bastion of more affordable housing, both rental and for-sale units.

“They (Gypsum officials) can see this issue is kind of like a slow mudslide that’s moving in their direction.”

Along with the purchaser considerations, Gypsum is considering guidelines designed to entice developers to build worker housing. Developers within the town seeking to increase density to more than 10 units per acre will be required to place any additional units into the restricted housing program.

Unit sizes would be limited to a maximum of 1,000 square feet for one- or two-bedroom units and 1,150 square feet for three-bedroom units.

The proposal notes that workforce housing units are intended to satisfy the needs of wage earners making between 80 percent and 140 percent of the area’s median income. Using that guideline, units would currently cost between $198,000 and $282,000. The program also restricts units to a maximum price of $350,000.

Some local developers have stepped forward with a project that could be a test model.

The Sawatch View Condominiums is a 72-unit project located on 3.5 acres in Gypsum. Developers Rick Beveridge, Tim Fair, Wayne Conrad, Allan Alpin and Brian Massouras are proposing the project.

According to Beveridge, the initial plan for the site was for a building with commercial space on the street level and residential units on the second floor. But when the town suggested the parcel would be a prime location to test a workforce housing project, the developers jumped at the opportunity.

“We are proud to be the first workforce housing project to go down there,” said Beveridge. He noted the local development team has made it possible to iron out both an overall program and a specific project that meets the requirements.

“We appreciate the increase in density. It is making it possible for us to offer such a large part of our project (36 units) for the program,” said Beveridge.

A number of details, however are still to be resolved, ranging from how many units an employer can purchase and then make available to workers to provisions for the developers to retain a certain number of the units. But Beveridge is hopeful the project will provide housing to people such as recreation district employees, law enforcement personnel and teachers. He’s also hopeful that the project will break ground within the next few weeks.

As for the overall workforce housing program, Gypsum Town Council members have concluded a preliminary discussion regarding the proposal. The actual program will come before the council in ordinance form some time during in 2008.

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