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Commissioners take different approach on essential housing

Plan would provide funds

Citing obstacles for requiring developers to build affordable homes in new subdivisions, the Gunnison County commissioners are now considering a plan to levy a fee on new developments to pay for centrally located affordable, or “essential,” housing units. The board asked its staff to investigate the idea and present its findings in June.

 

 

“I’m not abandoning, in my mind, the idea of inclusionary programs,” commission chair Hap Channell said.
However, during the commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday, May 6, the discussion centered on the ways an inclusionary housing system didn’t work to the county’s advantage and the values of a fee-based system.
Last month, the commissioners began seriously considering an inclusionary housing proposal in which one plan required that 15 percent of the units in a new subdivision be essential housing.
Another approach was a tiered system that would have had developers set aside a minimum of 10 percent of the residential space in a development for people who made 100 percent of the Area Medium Income. The higher the percentage of the AMI for the targeted household, the higher the percentage of essential housing a developer would have had to provide.
During the May 6 meeting, one of the points of concern with the inclusionary housing proposal was the distance that members of the workforce would have to travel if the affordable housing provided to them was in rural developments throughout the county.
“When we talk about inclusionary housing programs, we always have to talk about these subdivisions that are out there in the hinterland. Do we really want our workforce to be living in these places and by the nature of workforce housing the answer is no, in my mind,” Channell said.
While commissioner Paula Swenson explained the positive aspects of inclusionary housing, she conceded that Gunnison County is not perfectly suited for the system.
“Inclusionary is including all sorts of folks in a development. There is a social aspect to it, which includes all sorts of people and creates a sense of community in an area. But there are certain areas where we allow subdivisions that ‘inclusionary’ just doesn’t work in this county,” she said.
One reason for the incompatibility is the distance some of the developments are from the infrastructure that the workforce relies on, such as public transportation.
“[The distance] is OK for those who can afford to drive, but it’s not fair for the people who need those [transportation] services in the subdivisions,” commissioner Jim Starr said.
A fee-based system would be attached to the permitting process and, depending on the form a final plan takes, would require a developer to contribute to a fund, controlled by the Housing Authority, based on the costs of the development, said Channell. He added that it might also simplify the complexities of an inclusionary system.
But building new housing units isn’t the only option for the Housing Authority.
Starr said he’s intrigued by the idea of using as much of the money as possible to purchase, and refurbish if necessary, existing houses in the municipalities and then placing deed restrictions on them.
“The cities and municipalities are what we want in terms of concentration of dwellings and individuals, and putting people out in the county is the antithesis of what people want,” Channell said.
The more people who live in rural areas, the greater the need for water and sewer in those places, and the further the infrastructure needs to be stretched at a cost to the county. Having a higher concentration of people living in the municipalities relieves some of that pressure, he said.
But for the fee-based system to work, the money that the fund takes in has to be able to cover the construction costs of building affordable housing units elsewhere.
“It is important for the fee to be equivalent to what it would cost the developer to build the affordable housing units in the development,” Starr said.
Responding to a question from Channell, Joanne Williams, the county’s planning director, listed several of the basic components that would need to be in place, or at least discussed among the commissioners, for a fee-based system to work.
“There would have to be an amendment to the LUR and a defining structure to the fee system to say how much needed to be paid [into the fund] by a developer. We would need time to put the administrative documents in place and there would have to be a requirement threshold to say how much development needs to take place before a developer would have to contribute to the fund,” she said.
Ultimately, the commissioners asked the staff to provide them with a working draft of the fee-based requirements for review by June 17.

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