Considering a ballot initiative for tax increase
By Alissa Johnson
The Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority (GVRHA) is taking a close look at how to raise funds for affordable housing, including asking voters for a tax increase this fall. Though it’s too early to say exactly what that ballot initiative might look like, a 2016 needs assessment suggests a clear need for housing and a way to fund it.
The 2016 Gunnison Valley Housing Needs Assessment identified the need for 900 additional housing units by the end of 2020, including 400 affordable housing units. According to former county commissioner Paula Swenson, who is interim executive director for the housing authority, those 400 affordable housing units are in addition to what the private sector is building and are projected to cost $80 million.
“You don’t have to come up with the whole $80 million, but over a period of five years or so we have to come up with about 20 percent of that,” Swenson confirmed. Small funding streams will help, including Gunnison County’s workforce housing linkage fee, which is charged on new residential, commercial and industrial construction.
In addition, the housing authority is a joint effort by Gunnison County, Gunnison, Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte. Those members have funding streams as well, but the sum total isn’t enough to meet the identified need.
“Realistically, if we’re going to seriously address the housing needs in the valley, we’re going to have to seriously finance it as well,” Swenson said. “A lot of these will be home ownership-type units, so we build them and turn around and sell them, so that helps offset the money. We could also look at another Anthracite Place tax credit-type of building where we as a community came up with 20 percent of the cost. So there are different ways to do it, but we have to have money to leverage some money.”
According to the housing authority’s strategic plan, adopted on March 8, “To be able to address the affordable housing needs in the valley, the GVRHA must obtain continuous and sustainable funding to complete housing projects and to grow and sustain operations.”
To do that, the plan aims to develop one or more taxing mechanisms and secure up to $1.5 million in annual public funding for what it calls “permanently affordable regional housing” by December 2017.
In order to do that, the housing authority will be working with the consultant Magellan Strategies, which helped the Gunnison Valley Transportation Authority (RTA) prepare for its ballot initiative to increase funds through an increased sales tax.
While it’s too early to say just what a ballot initiative might look like for the housing authority, it’s gearing up to gather information and determine options, including research and surveys. The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) recently reviewed the housing authority’s plans and seemed to be supportive.
“It was good for the board to see the housing authority’s goal of 400 units by 2020, as the BOCC’s goal is 200 by 2020. Ultimately, these work together,” county commissioner John Messner told the News.
Messner also said he expected the housing authority to request funding for the community surveys and saw “no opposition from the BOCC for funding.”
The housing authority will also pursue funding through its other members.
Swenson reiterated the need for a tax increase. “We as a community had over 300 jobs that went unfilled last year because people couldn’t get housing, so if we don’t address this, it’s going to be an economic downturn for us. And it’s countywide, not just the north end of the valley. It is a countywide issue,” she said.
Swenson pointed out that in 2009, the average home price in Gunnison was around $250,000. Now, it’s around $400,000. “We recovered well from this recession,” she said.
In the meantime, the search for a permanent replacement for former executive director Karl Fulmer is under way. The deadline for applications closed last week, and Skype interviews will be conducted at the end of March. Candidates will be brought in for final interviews during the second week of April.