Towns, Grand County vote to form affordable housing partnership
Fraser, Winter Park, Granby and commissioners pass intergovernmental agreement to take collaborative action on highly pressing issue
The towns of Fraser, Winter Park and Granby, along with the Board of Grand County Commissioners have moved one step closer toward tackling the critical need for workforce housing by voting to create a regional housing authority to address the issue within the Fraser Valley Recreation District and Granby.
In votes over the past two weeks, Winter Park, Granby and the board voted unanimously to move forward with creating an Intergovernmental Agreement, and forming a regional housing authority called the Fraser River Valley Housing Partnership.
The Fraser Town Board voted 4-2 in favor.
The primary role of the partnership will be to facilitate the development of workforce housing units within the identified boundaries.
The participating governments agree that workforce housing is dire issue.
A “Mountain Migration Study” done in 2021 revealed that home prices in mountain communities continue to reach record heights, with rents increasing 40% between 2020 and 2021. According to the most recent Housing Needs Assessment in the towns of Winter Park (2015) and Fraser (2016), it was determined that approximately 413 additional housing units were needed to meet workforce housing requirements in 2020. Meanwhile, Grand County’s 2018 Housing Study demonstrated the need for 135 additional housing units in Granby by 2023.
Winter Park Town Manager Keith Riesberg called the situation “critical” and said workforce housing has been a top priority for the Town Council since he came on in 2019. The situation spiraled with the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought unprecedented numbers of newly relocated people to Grand County, he said.
“As a result, from my perspective, we’re not going to have housing for just basic positions that are critical to the operations of the community, like teachers and workers in hospitals,” said Riesberg. “In Grand County, I believe they have 38 or 35 positions in their road and bridge department and (they’ve filled) about one third of those.”
Workers are finding themselves out-priced by an influx of wealthy homeowners who raise the median income for the county and therefore home prices, said Alisha Janes, Winter Park’s assistant town manager. Currently, industry standards dictate that affordable housing cost 20% to 80% of the median income for a county area, determined by the U.S. Census and American family data.
But the problem with affordable housing in Grand County, said Janes, “is that folks with higher incomes are relocating here permanently. Already, the median income here is higher than reflects a true average of the need. So, typically, where the standard metric of affordable housing costing 20 to 120% of median income constitutes ‘affordable,’ in places with a higher median income, you’ve seen a lot of these words shift to ‘attainable.’ Meaning, what’s considered ‘affordable’ is 120% of the median income, but the market itself is not serving people who make 140 or 160% of median income. Here in Grand County, if you’re not at 300% of median income, or getting close to making $180,000 a year, where do you have an option to buy into the market?”
“We used to talk about the missing middle and now I’m talking about the nonexistent middle,” Janes said.
Currently there are only a handful of existing affordable housing projects and ones in progress in the region. The town of Winter Park has just 38 workforce housing units that it owns and operates, plus an existing homeownership project with 10 single-family homes.
Winter Park also has a public-private partnership with Fireside Creek Apartments under construction, which will add 50 additional rental apartments, deed restricted to local workforce. And the town “is hoping to be able to complete vertical construction on the next 20 for sale single-family homes within the next calendar year,” Janes said.
The Town of Granby is working on its U.S. Highway 40 affordable housing project just south of town between the Silver Sage neighborhood and the Flying Heels Arena, said Mayor Josh Hardy. It will be a mixture of apartments, duplexes, townhomes and single-family homes.
“There will be some deed restrictions put in place to assure the affordability. The town is also working on a comprehensive plan, which will help define the direction our town wants to grow,” he said.
The Town of Fraser has Grand County’s only low-income housing tax credit project, Wapiti Meadows, with 50 units. The property was built in 1995 and is located in Fraser, adjacent to the Safeway-anchored shopping center. Units rent in the 40%, 50% and 60% AMI bands, and the property appears to be in average condition for its age. Fraser is also in the process of buying 10 acres of property between the post office and County Road 8 for more affordable housing.
But with the official formation of the housing partnership, the three towns and the county commissioners will become a united front.
As Winter Park Mayor Nick Kutrumbos put it, “When you look at this from a coalition approach, by having multiple municipalities and the county working on it together, it puts us in a much better position to receive the grant funding needed to address it. We’ll eliminate local competition for things like the low-income housing tax credit. It will help diversify projects, so we’re not all trying to build the same type of inventory, from entry-level apartments to condominiums to single-family and retirement housing.
“Also, having a board will take the politics out of it. It will assure there are experts and people who understand how to get projects done versus just individual councils. So I strongly believe that — not that there won’t continue to be red tape and councils will have to sign off on decisions — but it will help to get these projects done quicker. The goal is to get one to two projects in motion once we have a sustainable funding stream.”
The various governments plan to have a seven-member housing board appointed this summer. According to Janes, Grand County, Town of Granby, Town of Fraser and Town of Winter Park will need to take action to appoint one board member. Each board will pass a resolution or take formal action to do so, and once those four initial members are in place, they will meet and establish a process to appoint the three at-large members.
“One good thing about it is it will be a standalone entity and it makes us a regional housing authority, eligible for a broader array of grant dollars,” Fraser Town Board Member Katie Soles said.
A housing-partnership working group meets biweekly and will continue to guide all of the participating governments as well as the new board. Next steps will include helping to coordinate the board appointment process and guiding discussions around identifying a primary funding source.
We will continue to cover this issue, focusing on funding for the project in a follow-up story.
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