Brower: When the ‘invisible hand’ can’t find a place to live
Grand Enterprise Initiative
It seems that I’ve been lamenting for years the dire situation in Grand County when it comes to housing for workers and middle-class professionals such as teachers and middle managers. I have not been alone in this lament.
In a nutshell, there is essentially no affordable housing for these people, either to buy or to rent. The result has been understaffed businesses and governments across the county. It has also resulted in a highly stressed and unhappy workforce.
And now there’s a bona fide effort underway to do something about this seemingly unresolvable problem. It’s called the Fraser River Valley Housing Partnership. It is, in essence, a multi-jurisdictional housing authority that has been vested with the power to assess and raise taxes, with the public’s approval, to help solve the housing problem. The name was chosen by the collective boards of the member governments to reflect that this effort is truly a regional collaboration.
Yes, this entity is going to be asking the voters of Grand County to approve an increase in property taxes to help fund this partnership so that it can buy land, build housing and manage it (either for rent or for sale) for the county’s permanent residents. There will be a question on this year’s election ballot.
For the 42 years I’ve lived in Grand County, affordable housing has always been an issue. Some years were more critical than others. The entire time it was my belief that if the problem got bad enough then the private sector would step in to help solve the problem. That’s the way capitalism is supposed to work, right? Remember the economics philosopher Adam Smith? He theorized that in a capitalistic society the “invisible hand” of market forces and business demand would naturally work to create what’s right for civilization. I believed in that theory.
The work of the private sector (and public sector) to provide housing and address this problem has been admirable in some cases. But, sadly, it’s lacking. The private sector can’t truly address this issue without going broke and besides, this issue goes beyond the ability of individual private sector employers, or individual towns, to resolve. That’s because there are larger structural issues in our economy in the United States that relate to this problem, including income inequality, the growing gap between rich and poor, and the entrenched notions of laissez faire economics.
This has been studied by experts before the formation of the partnership. The studies show that we will need more than 700 units of affordable housing in the next five years. Clearly, what’s been happening hasn’t been adequate.
So now it’s time for a governmental partnership, in an alliance with the property taxpayers of Grand County, to try and solve this problem. Hence, the newly formed Fraser River Valley Housing Partnership.
The partnership has been formed with Winter Park, Fraser, Granby and Grand County. These entities put up money — about $150,000 — to start the effort to form a housing authority. So, in essence, our governments got together to form another quasi-government to take on this issue.
The result? A board of directors has been formed and a ballot question is being drafted. The board consists of Deb Brynoff of Granby, president; Robyn Wilson, Grand County board member; Michael Johnson, Fraser representative and treasurer; Al Furlone, Winter Park representative; and at-large members secretary Sandra Scanlon, Ken Jensen, and Skylar Marshall.
This board is asking us a direct question: Will we give them the authority to raise property taxes in Grand County by 2 mills (about $70 a year for every $500,000 of valuation) to provide more affordable housing to rent or to buy in Grand County? This would give the partnership anywhere from $1 million to $1.2 million a year to buy ground and build affordable housing for Grand County.
I say it’s about time. In this case, Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” has come up empty.
Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He provides free and confidential business management coaching for anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He is also the author of “KILLDOZER: The True Story of the Colorado Bulldozer Rampage.” He can be reached at 970-531-0632 or at email@example.com.
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