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Schwartz: Affordable-housing solutions take every stakeholder

Gail Schwartz
Guest commentary

If the greater Roaring Fork Valley wants to make a significant impact on our affordable-housing crisis, it will take an unwavering commitment from every stakeholder — local governments, citizens, volunteers, businesses, and our philanthropic community.

The 2019 Regional Housing Study estimated that 4,000 additional homes are needed to meet the housing needs of the local workforce, which is why Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley is now committed to building affordable housing at scale. We’re a non-profit with a small construction company that is in the business of stabilizing families. In our experience, that starts with building a “forever home” in the communities where our families live and work.

What used to be our one-home-at-a-time-built-with-volunteers approach simply wasn’t adequate to catch up with the current demand for affordable housing, let alone future needs.



You don’t have to spend much time on social media to see the impacts of the housing crunch that is causing such desperation for local working families. Roaring Fork Swap routinely has pleas from anxious families looking for anything affordable within a 50-mile radius, so they can remain in the valley. Sadly, but true, the reactionary emojis are usually laughing faces and comments like “you must be kidding” or “you might as well ask for a unicorn while you’re at it.”

Local Businesses




There is no doubt that local businesses that depend on a local workforce to keep their doors open have a big part to play in affordable housing, but it’s not their problem to solve alone.

There are certain businesses in the valley with the capacity to invest in motels, build multiple units, and provide employee housing at scale. Those businesses with that capacity to do so, we encourage them to step up, and many already are.

We also need to provide access to affordable housing for small businesses, non-profits, and vital institutions, such as our schools and hospitals, for their workforce. For business owners who can’t contribute on a large financial scale, being active in shaping local housing policy-making is equally important. What this looks like is: showing up to advocate at city and county meetings when affordable housing is on the table; being actively involved in the proposed solutions to affordable housing; and speaking up when those solutions aren’t adequate. Change happens with momentum and momentum happens when people are inspired to action. What will it take to inspire us to take action?

Government

The connection of businesses and citizens to the governmental process cannot be emphasized enough. Government needs to facilitate the development of affordable homes. When projects are approved that provide housing that is only (or mostly) attainable by second-home owners, it only increases the workforce needs and exacerbates the housing problem. This is where businesses and citizens need to speak up. Our local governments need to balance future housing development in order to protect the culture, viability, and fabric of our communities while continuing to power the resort engine.

Government must thread the needle between free-market home prices and what is truly affordable for a service-industry-driven workforce. We can do this by improving the efficiency of approval processes, creating incentives for businesses to invest in affordable housing, and insisting that our visitors help pay the way without further burdening our business owners or putting the burden on the backs of homeowners.

The West Mountain Regional Housing Coalition (WMRHousing.org) is paving the way to identifying smart housing investments and potential solutions, and they are bringing an important regional approach to the table. When we work together across multiple counties, we can level the regulatory playing field and collectively solve the housing crisis.

Philanthropy

Even with an involved business community and full collaboration from governmental agencies, affordable housing requires significant subsidies. Working hand in hand with our philanthropic community, we can identify opportunities for donors to step forward to help tackle the housing problem, which is foundational to every other aspect of our community.

Generous philanthropic dollars have historically supported important arts and youth organizations in our valley. It is gratifying that housing is now becoming top of mind for donors, who recognize that there is a direct correlation between affordable housing as the underpinning to most things we consider essential in our communities. Through their giving, our local philanthropic community has the power to change our entire ecosystem.

Community

Cooperating to achieve our goals of safe and affordable housing for all means making our voices heard and standing up for the actions that help us to succeed. It means volunteering for affordable-housing projects that need to get across the finish line. It means packing a city council room to speak up on policies that matter. It means writing letters to the editor to voice our ideas and concerns when appearing in public isn’t possible. It also means recognizing that affordable housing “for all” doesn’t mean only our young working families. Our values must include diversity in every arena, including age, race, and income. When the conversation veers toward “retirees are part of the problem,” we have to remind critics that those same retirees are long-standing community members who paid it forward by teaching our children how to read. Our choices need not be binary: By working together, we can preserve and expand the essential fabric of our communities.

In the coming months, there will be many opportunities to better understand and support affordable housing in our region. Our local Habitat for Humanity affiliate will be keeping you posted on how you can be involved. In the meantime, share your thoughts and I sincerely appreciate your willingness to engage with us on solving this critical issue.

Gail Schwartz is the president of Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley. As a former Colorado state senator, business owner, and community planner, she has a unique understanding of the affordable-housing crisis on the Western Slope and in the greater Roaring Fork Valley and is committed to being part of the solution. gails@habitatroaringfork.org.