Housing experts back C’dale project
A unique housing project that’s been criticized as being too dense for the Carbondale neighborhood where it’s being proposed has earned praises from affordable housing experts.The experts say it’s a model project that would fill a gap in the town’s housing market. The Carbondale Board of Trustees will weigh density and neighborhood impacts against a need for affordable rental housing when it takes up consideration of the proposed 50-unit 8th Street Village project Tuesday.Rents for the planned 24 two-bedroom units would range from $485 to $621 per month, and from $559 to $716 for the 26 three-bedroom apartments, according to the proposal by developer Jonathon Reed, a specialist in affordable housing projects from Albuquerque, N.M..The rents fall within 40 percent to 50 percent of the area median income. The units would be made available to families and individuals who qualify based on household income.The current median income for Garfield County is $60,000 a year for a family of four, according to Susan Shirley, executive director of the Carbondale-based Mountain Regional Housing Corporation.At 50 percent, according to Shirley, the qualifying annual income range would be $27,250 for a three wage-earner family, $24,250 for a two wage-earner family, and $21,200 for a family with a single wage earner.Shirley explained that a wage earner is defined as any person in the household age 18 or older who could contribute to the family income.The regional housing corporation has worked with Reed on a similar project in Rifle, and was to be a general partner in that effort, but had to back away because of the organization’s ongoing obligation to the Keator Grove housing development in Carbondale. A portion of that project will include deed-restricted, owner-occupied affordable housing units.While the regional housing corporation has formally endorsed the 8th Street Village project, it’s the kind of housing development it would like to undertake on its own in the future, Shirley said.”It’s a difficult project to try to do with the high cost of land here, and that’s where the density comes in,” she said. “It’s not just a cookie-cutter development trying to maximize the number of units. It’s at that density because the numbers work that way to achieve the financing.”Jonathon [Reed] is well-known in the state of Colorado and across the region. He knows the process, and how it works,” added Shirley, who worked with Reed before taking the regional housing corporation directorship two years ago. “I have spoken highly of the developer, and we have supported him in the past. I think he know his business.”The project has also earned the backing of both the Colorado Division of Housing, which has tentatively approved $625,000 in subsidies for the project, and from the nonprofit Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, which has given preliminary approval for $614,000 in annual tax credits.”The project has met our minimum scoring criteria, and we believe there is a market for this project [in Carbondale],” said Ron LaFollette, manager of the tax credit program for Colorado Housing and Finance Authority.LaFollette said the process to meet Colorado Housing and Finance Authority’s strict criteria is intensely competitive, with only about 15 to 20 projects a year being approved.The mountain regions are particularly difficult, he said, because of the high land costs and higher income qualifying standards. LaFollette said Colorado Housing and Finance Authority deals with a combination of both private, for-profit developers, such as Reed, and nonprofit housing corporations, and the process doesn’t necessarily favor one over the other.Once a project is approved, the developer has 12 months to put the project together and get the necessary land-use approvals. After that, Colorado Housing and Finance Authority allows 24 months to complete construction, with stringent reviews along the way to make sure it’s meeting qualifications.The Division of Housing’s standards also look at the target income levels, as well as long-term affordability.”For us, it’s the length of time a project will remain at affordable levels,” said Bill Whaley, housing development specialist for the division. Reed’s plan proposes keeping the units off the free market for at least 40 years.”The income levels they are targeting are also a big plus,” Whaley said. “40, 50, 60 percent, those are the hardest income levels to serve statewide.”Arguments against the project have mostly centered around the proposal to change the zoning on the former 2.2-acre GMCO site from industrial to high-density residential, and the negative impacts, such as traffic and crowding, that would potentially bring to the neighborhood.The proposal calls for a pair of three-story buildings near the front of the parcel, with parking in back and landscaped open areas.The town’s Planning and Zoning Commission in July voted 6-1 to recommend denial of the application. Arguments ranged from maintaining the current industrial zoning to a preference for medium-density residential zoning.Carbondale’s 2000 Comprehensive Plan envisioned rezoning the site for residential development in the future. But Mark Chain, the town planning director, said he always interpreted that to mean medium density.”One of the biggest problems is that it’s out of scale with the neighborhood,” Chain said.Eighth Street is one of the main north-south roads through town. It includes a mix of single-family and small multifamily homes, plus a handful of lots that have been used by various industrial concerns.As for the town’s affordable housing goals, Chain said he’d like to see some mechanism to make the units available to key public-sector employees, such as teachers, police, firefighters and other town employees.”Our affordable housing goals are also geared more toward home ownership, rather than rental units,” he said.Reed has said the financing rules wouldn’t allow for giving preference to tenants outside of the income qualifications. And fewer units would also mean the project would lose its financing, he said.