Fire recovery, housing top of mind during Neguse’s Grand tour
Sitting in Grand Lake surrounded by ‘Help Wanted’ signs, US Rep. Joe Neguse heard from local leaders about how the East Troublesome Fire has worsened existing issues across Grand County.
On Sunday, the Colorado Democrat stopped in Grand Lake and Winter Park to discuss fire recovery, affordable housing and labor shortages.
Grand Lake Mayor Steve Kudron shared how the fire that destroyed more than 200 primary homes has heightened the housing crisis and labor shortages. Beyond that, the high building costs and growing number of short-term rentals are further straining housing solutions.
“There are people who lost their homes in the fire who have had to move two or three times since then,” Kudron said.
One suggestion in Grand Lake, and later echoed in Winter Park, called for adjusting the measures for housing assistance programs to identify projects, such as the Area Median Income. Kudron and Winter Park Mayor Nick Kutrumbos both shared that the AMI metric is inflated in Grand County, which has made it more difficult to secure low-income housing tax credits or vouchers.
Without funding assistance, the feasibility of affordable housing projects plummets because of the high costs of building, local officials said. Kutrumbos noted that more funding for housing programs would help, but he added that more creative solutions are needed.
Some efforts, such as the Winter Park Housing Assistance Fund and the deed restriction program, are effective at helping people get or keep housing, but Kutrumbos said it’s not enough to keep up with demand.
Neguse noted that housing concerns are not unique to Grand County and a top priority across Colorado. The congressman added that he hopes to bring the communities together to brainstorm solutions at a regional or state housing summit.
“Affordable housing really is the name of the game,” Neguse said.
In addition to the housing summit, Neguse is also planning to reintroduce the Ski Area Fee Retention Act in the House. The bill would remit permit fees that ski areas pay back to the forests in which they are generated.
Winter Park Resort CEO Sky Foulkes emphasized the importance of funding the US Forest Service, not only for fire mitigation projects, but for rehabilitation work as well. Foulkes said the fee retention bill would be a boon to those efforts.
Neguse agreed, saying he is optimistic about the bill passing this year because it has more bipartisan support than when it was first introduced in the 2019-20 legislative session.
“The time is right to do it,” Neguse said.
Following his visit to Grand County, Neguse appeared in Denver on Monday with Gov. Jared Polis to announce American Rescue Plan funding for affordable housing, COVID-19 recovery, mental health and infrastructure projects in Colorado.
The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan was signed into law by President Joe Biden in March to stimulate the economy following the pandemic.
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The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded $2.17 million to the Colorado division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for grant management costs as part of recovery efforts from the East Troublesome and Cameron Peak fires.