Basalt council candidates outline ways to pursue affordable housing
Editor’s note: The Aspen Times will run Q&A’s for the next several days with the candidates in Basalt’s April 7 election. Ballots were mailed to voters Monday. Q&A’s with the mayor candidates ran March 16 to 18 and will now be followed by three days with the six candidates for three council seats.
Aspen Times: To add affordable housing to the inventory, should the town government grant density increases for development projects, seek a property tax increase dedicated to housing or use some other tool? Please be specific.
Glenn Drummond: I support the proposed master plan that allows bonuses for density increases when more employee housing is built by the developer. Finding a way to encourage 100% employee housing for development proposals should also be examined. I would support referring a question to the citizens to let them decide if we should levy a tax to help address our employee housing issue. We could look at additional Tax Credit (Section 42) housing such as the Real American project, which is 100% affordable. Solving this issue will require using multiple tools together.
Tiffany Haddad: We must first address why we don’t have a lot of affordable housing in this area — and that has to do with income. A lot of people can only afford the basics, so finding a home in which to live that is within their means is not only difficult by affordability standards but also due to location of jobs, and lack of affordable housing in the Roaring Fork Valley. This past year, the Colorado Division of Housing gave $381,000 by way of a state grant to develop 27 housing units through Habitat for Humanity in Basalt. We could do more by creating a housing trust that would develop funds specifically for developments to provide affordable housing, which would create more vibrant citizens with less stress.
Elyse Hottel: With a valley-wide deficit of nearly 4,000 units identified as of 2017, resulting in cross-commuting and exacerbated traffic, and a projected 6,800-plus unit deficit by 2027 according to the Greater Roaring Fork Regional Housing Study, no one can deny that affordable housing is an important issue to our economy and quality of life. The study also identified $54 million in “overspending” (i.e. expending more than 30% of income on housing) leaving the valley in 2017! To add affordable housing to the inventory will require a cocktail of solutions — and who doesn’t enjoy a good cocktail?! Basalt is space-limited, open space is sacred, therefore increased density will be needed to meet demand. This could be a win-win: limit the price of affordable housing in exchange for granting a density increase. Tax credits are another mechanism; these were used to build the new Roaring Fork Apartments. A longer-term vision would create a local entity to build and manage affordable housing like an enterprise, hiring local and keeping Basalt’s portion of that $54 million in our economy. Sharing best practices with other municipalities could shed light on this and other options yet to be envisioned.
David Knight: Increasing affordable housing options is a top priority for the community as demonstrated during the public outreach process for the 2020 master plan. The master plan also speaks to a multi-faceted approach to grow affordable housing inventory, which is wise. Some specific tools that I believe are effective to add affordable housing inventory include encouraging smaller and less expensive free-market housing, incentivizing development projects with density near local transit, and promoting a multi-jurisdictional approach in the valley that includes partnerships with nonprofits.
Jennifer Riffle: Affordable attainable housing for current and future citizens of Basalt, and the RFV regional population, is of serious significance as scientifically documented in the ’18 Regional Housing Study. To recognize and celebrate our successes like Roaring Fork Apartments and Southside Habitat Net Zero projects is strategic. Further realization will require increased utilization of land-use variances, tax incentives, multijurisdictional partnerships, RETA (Real Estate Transfer Assessment), which are all currently employed. I am supportive of central and transit-oriented density throughout Basalt, such as the Aspen Skiing Co. Willits development. Together we are curious how the integration of further density will affect neighborhoods — which I heard clearly from constituents of Willits. Nonetheless, a private corporate developed affordable housing is a success and I welcome facilitating further such developments, throughout Basalt. At this point of Basalt mill levies, I am not in strong favor of the concept increasing taxation of business and residential properties to generate affordable housing funds. Rather, partnering with and enabling employers to pay higher wages and secure housing for their necessary workers is the focus. As an early champion of RF Regional Housing Coalition, we exhibit structure and facilitate accomplishing together what is affecting our region.
Kirk “Dieter” Schindler: Affordable housing is not an issue that can be solved by one silver bullet. Multiple tools need to be activated to address this issue. Basalt’s Affordable Community Housing group has implemented many of these tools since its inception in 2009. Town Council should review the program, and adopt a more comprehensive code to ensure the program is operating as intended and is sufficiently funded. I support density increases provided the density fits the surrounding area and there are sufficient public services nearby (either existing or provided as part of the development). Appropriate increases in density combat sprawl and protect our natural environment. It is also sensible to investigate and pursue a real estate transfer tax or other tax measures dedicated to housing. Finally, alignment with our county and valley partners must be enhanced so that we are all rowing in the same direction. This is a valley-wide issue and the affordable housing issue will not be solved by a single tool or community initiative. We must work in concert with our neighboring communities.