County commissioners talk housing with Grand Foundation
Approaching a year after the East Troublesome Fire destroyed 366 homes, including 132 belonging to fulltime Grand County residents, there are still a few families that haven’t been able to find stable housing.
Grand County Housing Authority Director Sheena Darland explained to commissioners during a workshop Wednesday that while some have moved to other towns and want to come back, others spent the summer tent camping.
“They’re to a point where they’re facing wintertime in a van, some of them, or a tent,” Darland said.
Using the Grand Foundation’s Grand County Wildfire Fund, those families will not be spending the winter in a van or a tent. However, the fund might have to pay several months of a hotel bill for those families that cannot find housing, which isn’t an ideal way to spread those donated dollars.
“Oct. 21 marks a year and we still have five families,” Grand Foundation Executive Director Megan Ledin said to commissioners. “We have the funds to help them. We have the funds that can make a bigger impact overall, so what can we do?”
The biggest problem is that there are simply not many places in the county, let alone affordable places to own or rent.
The Grand Foundation is looking to steward a purchase to grow the affordable housing inventory of Grand County. One such way, Ledin explained, might be to purchase and renovate former motels, of which there have been a few on the market in Grand.
Ledin emphasized that the Grand Foundation does not want to own any property, and so would look to donate any purchase to the Grand County Housing Authority. The local housing authority would probably manage the homes like it manages the senior housing in the county, charging rent equal to 30% of the family’s income.
According to Ledin’s proposal, once purchased, the newly available affordable housing would go toward housing displaced fire families. Once those families find permanent accommodation through rebuild or purchase, the housing could then serve others in the Grand County workforce.
“We have people who had a tragedy and lost their homes, who still don’t have a place to call home,” Ledin said. “What can we do together (is) start with one problem but ultimately help another problem, a much larger problem.”
In Ledin’s proposal, the Grand Foundation would find the funds for three-quarters of a purchase and look to the county to fund the other 25%. For the county, which has seen a fiscally prosperous 2021, this seemed a doable ask.
While it was a workshop and no official decisions were made, the commissioners said they were open to such a deal and would look at a more solid proposal from the Grand Foundation should the organization find a place to purchase.
Also during Wednesday’s workshop on housing, Ledin outlined the Grand Foundation’s two housing assistance funds, which are not fire related. The two separate but similar funds started with the Winter Park Housing Assistance Fund, which was seeded by the Winter Park town council and other entities to serve Winter Park’s workforce.
The fund works to help bridge the gap in affordability. With the guideline that rent should equal about 30% of a monthly income, if someone finds a place to live above this proportion, they can apply to the housing assistance fund to make up the difference for a year.
The program was so successful in Winter Park that the Grand Foundation created a second fund, this one serving all of Grand County. The grants from both funds can also contribute to down payment assistance.
The two funds remain separate because of how the money was allocated, though applications are taken on a case-by-case basis. This means that an applicant outside of Winter Park may still be able to utilize the Winter Park fund, depending on certain factors, and vice versa. The Grand Foundation funds both equally.
The Winter Park fund has awarded over half a million dollars through 526 grants, with 38% going toward Winter Park residents, 31% in the surrounding Fraser Valley and 30% in other parts of Grand County. The Grand County fund has awarded over $288,000 through 482 grants, with 10% going to Winter Park, 30% to the surrounding Fraser Valley and 60% in other parts of Grand.
The Grand Foundation and Grand Lake’s government have put dollars toward the Grand County Housing Assistance Fund, but Ledin wanted to see if the county might be interested in contributing.
“I can’t speak for the county, but I believe that your constituents would be very passionate about you investing into at least this one piece to continue to help our workforce afford to live here,” Ledin said.
The Grand Foundation is also approaching other towns in the county about contributing to the Grand County fund as a way to grow its funding and support for affordable housing,
“There’s so many siloed things going on in relation to housing in our community,” Ledin said. “If there’s even one way we can all come together, that’s what we’re here (for) and we’re about. We’re a community foundation.”
Commissioners were also amiable about putting money into this fund.
Ledin added that she’s working on further reach out with the western side of the county to make sure folks know about the Grand County fund, which sees fewer applications from Kremmling and surrounding areas.
Learn more about the Grand County Housing Assistance Fund at http://www.grandfoundation.com/Grants/Grand-County-Housing-Assistance-Fund and the Winter Park Housing Assistance Fund at http://www.grandfoundation.com/Grants/Winter-Park-Housing-Assistance-Fund.
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