Habitat will not pursue housing credits in Aspen

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times
Michael McLaughlin/The Aspen Times
Michael McLaughlin/The Aspen Times |

Habitat for Humanity will not pursue affordable-housing credits as a financing option in its proposal to build Aspen’s first Category 1 units, a member of the organization said Wednesday.

Using an East Cooper Avenue lot that the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority plans to donate, the nonprofit’s local chapter is proposing to replace a dilapidated A-frame structure with a new duplex containing two three-bedroom units. Neither the city nor the county has ever built anything in the lowest income category.

Habitat and the housing authority initially considered seeking three affordable-housing certificates to finance the project, which raised concerns from city officials. Established in 2010, the certificate program offers credits to developers who build beyond affordable-housing requirements. The credits — which the city estimates carry a price tag of as much as $300,000 each — can then be sold to other developers weighing mitigation for their own projects.

When the Aspen City Council discussed the program in September, Community Development Director Chris Bendon took issue with a government entity pursuing housing certificates, given the entity’s role as a housing provider. Though housing authority officials argued that their office was not directly involved, Bendon said anything with the appearance of using public funds to assist private development creates a problem.

“This is much higher stakes for us … building in Aspen is like a whole other universe.” — Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork Valley President Scott Gilbert.

“The city doesn’t want us to do that,” said Scott Gilbert, Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork Valley President, on Wednesday. “They say it wasn’t meant for us, even though technically we could moan and say we deserve those credits. We’re not pursuing credits.”

Instead, he said the organization will work with the city and Pitkin County on other financing options and fee waivers. Money from the unit sales as well as Habitat fundraising will finance the rest of the estimated $925,000 project, Gilbert said.

Habitat is expecting about $225,000 in pre-construction costs, between building fees and clearing the lot. Gilbert said that for a normal Habitat project, building fees are around $15,000, but the project in Aspen commands about $108,000 in fees. Construction costs are estimated at $700,000.

“This is much higher stakes for us,” he said. “Building in Aspen is like a whole other universe.”

Throughout the process, government officials have agreed that Category 1 housing in Aspen is an exciting prospect. On Wednesday, Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said the county is certainly willing to review a proposal.

“The county’s expressed a willingness to sit down and talk about that project and opportunities for us to partner,” Peacock said, adding that he has not received any specific information. “We’re committed to promoting affordable housing here. I think on the surface, the Habitat project looks pretty intriguing, but we just need to understand what the request is and how the funds would be used.”

Assistant City Manager Barry Crook, who has been the point of contact with Habitat, was out of the office Wednesday, and Bendon said he is unsure where the conversation stands.

The housing authority purchased the lot, located at 1230 E. Cooper Ave., for $289,753 in 2009. Habitat is seeking applicants who make less than $57,000 per year per household, and families living in Aspen are preferred. Gilbert said the hope is to break ground in fall 2015 or spring 2016.