Housing credits still an option for Habitat for Humanity’s Aspen project | AspenTimes.com

Housing credits still an option for Habitat for Humanity’s Aspen project

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

The Aspen City Council can expect a land-use application soon from Habitat for Humanity to build a Category 1 duplex on a Cooper Avenue lot owned by the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority.

Whether the application includes a request for affordable-housing credits to offset development costs will be up for discussion in the coming weeks. Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork Valley President Scott Gilbert said his organization is still weighing its options.

On Wednesday, The Aspen Times incorrectly reported that the affordable-housing credit request was no longer an option, based on Aspen City Council direction. The council on Tuesday upheld prior direction from 2010, when the credit program was established, that would limit participation to private developers. Amendments to the code will not become official for a few months, and in the meantime, Habitat is within its right to request credits.

Gilbert said his organization has no motivation to beat any deadline associated with the proposed changes.

"We intend to build if we can make it pencil out financially," he said. "Our goal is to try to make it work and make it work sooner rather than later, but it's not like our motivation is to beat this deadline, because we may or may not even be applying for credits."

He added that everyone — the city, the housing authority and Habitat — is in agreement that Category 1 housing in Aspen is an exciting prospect. However, he admitted there's a difference of opinion between the housing authority and city bureaucrats on how to get it done.

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The housing authority plans to donate a 6,000-square-foot lot, located at 1230 E. Cooper Ave., to Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork Valley, which would in turn build two three-bedroom units. Neither the city nor the county has ever built anything in the lowest income category.

The housing authority, which bought the lot for $289,753 in 2009, and Habitat were initially seeking three affordable-housing credits. The certificate program offers credits to developers who build beyond affordable-housing requirements. The credits — which the city estimates could carry a price tag of as much as $300,000 each — can then be sold to other developers weighing mitigation for their own projects.

Community Development Director Chris Bendon argued Tuesday that anything that has the appearance of using public funds to assist a private development creates a disadvantage for groups not receiving subsidy. It also disincentivizes program participation from private developers, which goes against the original intent of the program, he said.

On Wednesday, housing authority board Chairman Ron Erickson pointed out that the housing office is not directly applying for the credits. Instead, a nonprofit with small pockets and without any intentions to reap economic benefit is applying, he said. Furthermore, he claimed Bendon's points were based on original intentions, not the law. He also said Habitat is willing to tie the value of its credits directly to development costs it will incur.

Another concern Bendon aired Tuesday is that selling the credits for less than they're worth might drive the price down, making projects like the one Peter Fornell has planned on Main Street unfeasible.

Erickson called the Habitat project a unique situation and cast doubt that it would have any effect in the grand scheme of things.

"I don't see this happening a lot," Erickson said. "It's never happened before. I don't know if it's ever going to happen again."

He agreed that code for the credit program needs to be fleshed out and reworked, but he advised the council against basing its decision on one project.

"To change the ordinance based on this one case really is reactionary," Erickson said. "It's not proactive thinking. It hasn't been a problem. I don't think it's going to become a problem."

Erickson said if the two Category 1 units are built, they will be "rarer than hen's teeth."

herk@aspentimes.com