Time for an Eagle Co. housing authority? | AspenTimes.com

Time for an Eagle Co. housing authority?

Melanie Wong
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. ” To get more affordable housing built for local workers, Eagle County wants to form a “housing authority,” an approach that has already been taken in two nearby Colorado resort areas ” Summit and Pitkin counties.

Eagle County commissioners would preside over the housing authority; its main goal would be to build affordable homes and buy free-market homes to resell at affordable prices. Initially, though, it would not be supported by tax revenues, unlike, for example, the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority.

Forming the authority would give the county greater flexibility in investing money, selling or buying land, making bylaws or rules pertaining to housing, and managing any affordable homes the county owns, said County Commissioner Arn Menconi.

“I think it should be apparent that the county is trying to take leadership in listening to residents and producing affordable housing. This is one tool to do that,” Menconi said.

As a housing authority, county officials could develop land and acquire property, according to county Housing Director Alex Potente.

County officials can do those things now, but formation of a housing authority makes it easier, he said.

Don Cohen, president of the Eagle County Economic Council, compared the county’s plan to a company forming a separate corporation to handle its financial matters.

“This is definitely something simple to manage housekeeping now, but it could lead to something more,” he said.

That “something more” could be a larger housing authority involving the towns and valley businesses in the future, said County Commissioner Peter Runyon.

Under state law, a multijurisdictional authority as described by Runyon, also has the power to tax.

However, an agency with taxing power is not in the near future, said Menconi

“I don’t think this community is ready for a (tax). We have to do things incrementally and see how ready people are to accept that,” he said.

The county has not had serious talks with any towns about joining the housing authority, said Potente.

“This is not something the county wants to force on other communities. ‘Housing authority’ can have bad connotations in a bureaucratic sense that we want to avoid. This really just gives us more flexibility in getting affordable housing stock in the ground,” he said.

To form the authority, there must be a petition signed by 25 residents, a public hearing and a vote. The county commissioners hope to get the authority started within the next two months.

The housing authority is only one of several ways the county is trying to build affordable homes in an area where ski resorts ” namely Vail and Beaver Creek ” have helped drive real estate prices out of reach for the average worker. In January, commissioners decided to invested $4.5 million in Stratton Flats, a project that will bring 226 deed-restricted homes to Gypsum, located west of the resorts on the Interstate 70 corridor.

Commissioners are also close to approving a new set of housing guidelines for new residential and commercial projects, despite resistance from some developers, who say the requirements will hurt building in the area.

The guidelines would require residential developers to devote about a third of the total square footage of their projects as affordable or locally owned housing. Developers of commercial projects would have to build affordable housing for all of the jobs their projects generate except for those on the highest end of the pay scale.

Eagle-Vail resident Katherine Kelly said she thinks those are good steps, since affordable housing is badly needed the community.

In a resort community, there have to be places to live for the people who run services, she said.

“Even for me, I think I make decent money, but I can’t afford to buy anything here,” she said.

But Eagle-Vail resident Peter Theune said he thinks the county’s policies could hurt development and businesses.

The valley needs affordable housing, but ultimately that is not what is bringing money to the area, he said.

“It’s a problem that’s always going to be here. Ever since Vail has been here, affordable housing has always been a problem,” he said.


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