Valleywide effort to focus on a regional housing authority to help beleaguered workers |

Valleywide effort to focus on a regional housing authority to help beleaguered workers

Officials from Aspen to Glenwood joining statewide effort to support local workforces

A group trying to improve the state of the Roaring Fork Valley’s workforce using a regional cooperative approach has decided to focus on housing as the starting point for its efforts.

The as-yet-unnamed committee — with officials from most of the governments between Aspen and Glenwood Springs and representatives of the business, social service provider and education communities — is led by Pitkin County and is part of a statewide effort by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs to strengthen local workforces.

“The common theme among the whole steering committee … was that we all recognized we have to start with regional housing,” Kara Silbernagel, Pitkin County’s policy and projects manager, told county commissioners last week at their regular weekly work session. “That’s where we need to be spending our time.”

The effort focuses on the area between Aspen and Glenwood Springs, but includes anyone who works in the Roaring Fork Valley. The committee is one of 16 statewide awarded technical assistance — no direct funding is currently available — from DOLA in the form of a consultant who will help build and implement a “Regional Resiliency and Recovery Roadmap.”

The 45 members of the Roaring Fork Valley team met between August and October to lay the groundwork for building the roadmap, which calls for solutions to the housing program to be identified between now and June and implemented during the following June-to-June period, Silbernagel said.

Identified as larger issues for workers and their families during the initial planning meetings was a lack of economic diversity in the valley, systemic irregularities in access to services that address basic needs like childcare and mental health and the traumas and stress associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Career workforce mobility and access to livable wages also factored in to the concerns.

“The question was where do you start?” Silbernagel said.

Because all of those issues are underpinned by the lack of affordable, diverse housing in the Roaring Fork Valley, which itself is exacerbated by a lack of regional vision to address the housing problems, the committee settled on housing as the main issue to bolster workforce resilience, she said.

One idea that has received some traction so far is to revive a regional housing coalition effort begun before the pandemic and put on hold because of it, Silbernagel said. It was not clear last week exactly what effort she was talking about, though two valley men proposed a regional housing authority a few years ago.

Regardless, the DOLA committee is looking at using the state-provided consultant for the project to plan a regional housing effort based on that already-existing model, and then implement it, she said.

“It needs to be solved on (a regional) level,” Silbernagel said. “These are all inter-dependent relationships.”

And while governments, businesses and organizations previously may have paid no more than lip service to the idea of a regional housing coalition, that appears to be changing.

“It’s hitting so many levels of the work sector, there is a different level of urgency I think a lot of people are feeling,” Silbernagel told commissioners Tuesday. “There is an emerging collective will now. It seems to really be resonating.”

Another key to workforce sustainability is dealing with the fatigue related to the pandemic that’s causing workers to burnout and “opt-out” by quitting. It’s not yet clear how to address that broadly experienced, global trauma, “but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try,” she said.

Commissioner Patti Clapper said she’d have a hard time supporting a regional housing authority without a uniform, valley-wide code that protects and prioritizes affordable housing. Recent developments in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale that set aside, for example, 15 out of 300 units as affordable for just the first three-to-five years before they’re turned over to second homeowners from out of state is part of the problem, she said.

“To me, that is just not really acceptable,” Clapper said.

Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said a regional housing authority would be set up to work to find consensus on issues exactly like that.

“Part of the idea to emphasize with a regional housing coalition is to provide a forum to get some consistency around policy issues,” Peacock said. “We just don’t have that for these regional discussions.”

Pitkin County Board Chairwoman Kelly McNicholas Kury said she supported the committee’s efforts so far.

“I do think housing is an appropriate point of entry (into workforce problems),” she said. “It will allow opportunities to solve some problems.”

McNicholas Kury said she’s been pushing the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority to conduct an affordability study for the entire valley to have a more informed discussion on the subject.

A 2019 housing needs assessment funded by all Roaring Fork Valley predicted a deficit of 5,700 affordable housing units in the region by 2027 and a shortage of 700 units for middle-income households.

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