Sunday, September 15, 2019

Swenson beating the drum on workforce housing needs

Potential tax to fund 400 new units

By Mark Reaman and Alissa Johnson

The interim director of the Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority (GVRHA), Paula Swenson, is making the rounds of local government meetings to rally support. Extolling the strategic plan, Swenson is asking the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, the city of Gunnison and Gunnison County to equally fund the GVRHA and also help pass a tax this November to fund hundreds of new affordable housing units in the valley before 2020.

A 2016 Housing Needs Assessment concluded the valley needed 900 additional workforce housing units by December 2020. Of those, 400 built through public-private collaboration would be deed-restricted. The other 500 would be free market housing.

According to a report from Swenson, to do that, the GVRHA must obtain continuous and sustainable funding for projects and operations. “It is estimated that the creation of 400 additional units will equate to $80 million in new housing assets. To be able to leverage and partner to fund these projects, approximately an additional $1.5 million annually in public funding is needed,” the strategic plan states. “By December 2017, the GVRHA will, by some taxing mechanism, secure up to $1.5 million in annual public funding for permanently affordable regional housing solutions.”

Swenson said the GVRHA has hired the Magellan Strategies Group to help the authority find the path for a successful tax approval. Magellan worked to help pass the RTA sales tax last year.

“They have started polling voters and some preliminary results indicate that the community understands the need for housing and understands the need to pay for it,” Swenson told the Crested Butte Town Council on Monday, April 3. “We are exploring both a lodging tax and a ‘modest’ property tax or some combination.”

Swenson explained a new lodging district tax could not be more than 2 percent and it would include short-term rentals.

“There is a need to find a continuous funding source to pay for these projects,” Swenson explained. “Any new tax would not pay for operations. It would go to getting new projects in the ground.”

Operations would be paid through management of the projects and contributions from the regional government entities. The town of Crested Butte has budgeted $55,000 for the GVRHA this year.

Swenson also met with the Mt. Crested Butte Town Council on Tuesday, April 4. She told the councilmembers that a startup survey of more than 250 people suggested that “88 percent of our citizens believe that this is the #1 or #2 priority facing the valley right now and a vast majority of them believe the local government needs to be involved and that somehow we need to find a way to provide these units.”

She also said that it looks promising that Gunnison Valley residents would vote for some kind of tax initiative, but she expects to be getting more in-depth information in the next couple of weeks.

Councilwoman Janet Farmer wanted to know if the GVRHA had any concern about taxpayers getting hit with multiple tax increases, particularly with consideration of a statewide tax increase for transportation needs.

Swenson acknowledged that factors like that would be taken into consideration, particularly because of talk that the Crested Butte Fire Protection District may consider a ballot initiative as well.

“Realistically, two could pass on the ballot. When there are more than two, generally, voters just go down the list and vote no, so we need to be strategic,” Swenson said.

She ended the update by asking the council to contribute $6,000 to the GVHRA. She said the authority was able to absorb the costs of searching for a new executive director, and the Gunnison Valley Housing Foundation helped fund strategic planning. But the GVHRA but did need help with the process of conducting the surveys and educating the public on the ballot initiative.

The council agreed to the contribution, which means that the city of Gunnison, Gunnison County, Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte have all contributed $6,000 for this process.

Swenson noted that a new executive director should be on board shortly, with the candidates down to two finalists. And she informed the council that the county had received five requests for qualifications (RFQs) from developers interested in helping to develop the 17-acre Brush Creek road parcel.

Swenson said she will be sharing more information from the surveys as it becomes available and will keep all the government entities in the loop as election season gets closer.

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