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No panacea for housing shortage

Hank Shell
hshell@skyhidailynews.com

Housing series

This the final story of the three-part series about affordable housing in Grand County. Part 1 ran Friday, Oct. 30. Part 2 ran Friday, Nov 6.

If the root causes of Grand County’s housing shortage are complex, then the possible solutions are even more so.

In communities like the Fraser Valley where the cost of development is high, certain federal programs can subsidize the development of attainable housing.

One of the more popular programs is the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program. Introduced as part of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, the LIHTC program issues billions of dollars of tax credits for the acquisition, rehabilitation and construction of affordable housing every year.

Currently, Wapiti Meadows in Fraser is the only LIHTC property in Grand County.

The rooms at Wapiti Meadows are income-restricted, and the Colorado Housing Finance Authority, which administers the LIHTC program in Colorado, determines the maximum rents, said Property Manager Antoinette McVeigh.

The rents and income limits are based on area median income (AMI).

AMI doesn’t incorporate incomes from non-family single and roommate households, which can make the figure higher than the average income of all households in the area, according to Winter Park’s Housing Needs Assessment.

McVeigh said the AMI in Grand County, $54,000 per year, seems high to her.

“I think there it’s skewed,” she said. “I think there are some really high income earners that push those incomes to be a little higher.”

Wapiti Meadows offers units from 40 to 60 percent of AMI, but for resident Shanna Ganne, the maximum rent has become unaffordable.

Jeff Harper, another Wapiti Meadows resident, has been able to weather increasing rents because of a successful business, but he said he worries about his employees, one of whom lives in Wapiti Meadows.

“If there’s nothing in the valley that they can comfortably afford then I’m out of the best people that I can hire,” Harper said. “Without them I start thinking about taking my business out of the community.”

Unfortunately, there aren’t many other options.

The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, a federal housing assistance program, has a 34-person waiting list in Grand County.

Hideaway Junction, Winter Park’s own attainable housing project, offers units starting in the low $200,000s. The prices are out of reach for many workers, and the units are currently sold out.

Winter Park sets 30 percent goal

In Winter Park, Town Manager Drew Nelson said that high development costs mean the LIHTC program probably isn’t a realistic option.

“The very low income stuff is a challenge, but that’s not saying that there’s no opportunity out there for any of that low income stuff, but federal programs are not well developed for rural resort communities,” Nelson said

Winter Park is instead focusing on providing housing between 50 percent and 80 percent AMI.

The town has set a goal to house 30 percent of its workforce.

It currently houses around 22 percent.

To meet that goal, the town needs to build 40 units per year, Nelson said.

“We’re going to need to figure out some sort of strategic partnership or financing option or whatever it might be if we’re going to be able fund affordable units going forward, and again I think the partnerships are out there,” Nelson said.

Winter Park has collected a $3 per square foot building impact fee dedicated to attainable housing since 2000.

The town has about $1.2 million in its affordable housing fund and owns around 10 acres on which attainable units could be built.

In Fraser, the town is currently negotiating an affordable housing plan with Rendezvous and Grand Park, its two largest developers.

“We have some challenges ahead of us so we’re doing some other things with economic development that may kind of be on a parallel track with this,” Town Manager Jeff Durbin said.

The town board recently hosted housing consultant Wendy Sullivan, who spoke about the possibility of conducting a housing needs assessment for Fraser.

Tackling housing without federal help

There are a number of ways for towns to tackle attainable housing shortages without federal programs, said Christine Baumann with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Some resort communities offer developers property tax abatement to make units affordable, Baumann said.

“Units that are subsidized in this way may be governed by a deed restriction, which is attached to the property,” Baumann said. “Note that in the example above, this is something a community can undertake without additional assistance from state or federal funding sources. Therefore, the type of local subsidy provided, the income restrictions attached to the units, the length of time the units are required to remain affordable, etc. can all vary significantly.”

Other ways communities can address affordable housing include building units that are only available to “critical” occupations like teachers or police officers, Baumann said.

While community leaders continue to grapple with attainable housing, it’s clear that there’s no panacea, and any solution may come too late for residents like Ganne who may be forced to leave Grand County.

Nelson said he’s acutely aware of the implications that a possible exodus of workers carries.

“It’s a tough issue up here right now,” Nelson said. “We’ve got a tremendous sensitivity to it because we’re going to struggle if we cant find people to work at our restaurants, to work at our ski area, to drive our buses, to do all that stuff, and we acknowledge that.”

Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.


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