Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Mt. CB talks priorities for new lodging tax funds

$750K to $950K annually for affordable housing projects

By Kendra Walker

With the new 2.9 percent lodging excise tax passed by voters this November election, the Mt. Crested Butte Town Council began discussing how to prioritize the future funds toward affordable housing. The tax is expected to bring in approximately $750,000 to $950,000 a year.

During a work session on November 19, council members brainstormed their top priorities and ideas for affordable housing projects.

Council agreed that one of the first areas of focus should be determining plans for the 17 acres town owns called Parcel F, adjacent to the North Village. Council has been in conversations with North Village owner Claudio Alvarez about adding affordable housing or workforce rental units onto Parcel F that would correlate with the North Village design and construction. Council is planning an upcoming work session to determine their input and guidance on North Village.

Guidance from the experts

Several council members prioritized using the lodging tax funds toward hiring an expert to provide direction for moving forward on affordable housing opportunities.

“One thing that’s really important is to work with someone to help us navigate housing so that we don’t just kind of guess,” said council member Lauren Koelliker. “I think it’s a priority to get some outside opinions from housing experts.”

Council has already been working with housing practitioner Willa Williford over the past several months to update Mt. Crested Butte’s Community Housing Guidelines and to identify opportunities for housing funds.

Jennifer Kermode, executive director of the Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority, sat in on the November 19 work session to offer her insights. “From my experience in Summit County and learning from other resort towns, helping to reduce costs to the builder and subsidizing building fees upfront—that’s huge,” said Kermode.

In addition to reducing construction costs, council also liked the idea of using funds to waive or decrease tax fees and other development, utilities and infrastructure costs.

Taking care of our own

Council agreed that some of the excise tax funds could also go toward housing for town staff.

“My number one, and probably my number two and number three also are all the same thing: use what we collect to secure housing for our town staff,” said councilman Nicholas Kempin. “Joe [Fitzpatrick] is not going to do this job forever and I really struggle to think how we would hire a new town manager and have them live here…

“Wouldn’t it be great to have our chief of police live in the town that he polices?” Kempin said, referencing that chief of police Nate Stepanek currently lives in Crested Butte South. “I feel very strongly that should be our top priority.”

“I’m curious whether or not the town could participate in the lottery for the 22 units going in Homestead?” asked councilman Dwayne Lehnertz.

“I think we just outright buy maybe four of those units [before the lottery],” said Fitzpatrick.

“I like the idea, I wonder, can we be in the rental market?” asked councilman Roman Kolodziej.

“We would have to look carefully how those deed restrictions are written,” said Fitzpatrick. “It’s no different from Crested Butte selling to businesses that would turn around to employees.”

Kermode added, “In resort communities, we have to start paying attention to looking at providing loan assistance to town employers who are in older units, who already own units. To keep their homes and to keep them in their homes they need access to $25,000 to $35,000 in cash.”

Payment assistance, deed restrictions, Brush Creek and solar

Other ideas from council members included deposit assistance for renters, down payment assistance for buyers and purchasing deed restrictions. Council has expressed interest in Vail’s InDeed housing program, in which the town purchases deed restrictions on either new units or those being sold, ensuring that the units are within reach to local buyers and will be occupied by full-time working residents.

Council also wants to look into getting water studies done at Brush Creek (a parcel Mt. Crested Butte co-owns with Crested Butte, Crested Butte Mountain Resort and Gunnison County) so everyone has a better idea of the development options moving forward as they seek affordable housing projects for that parcel.

Community development director Carlos Velado also suggested that town could contribute some of the funds to add solar on units during construction of an affordable housing development, such as Homestead. “What that does is it would make the housing itself more affordable to live in,” he said. “It reduces their utility cost, increasing the likelihood of [residents] to stay.”

Council plans to review each other’s ideas and flesh out priorities further in a future meeting, with the date to be determined. Town staff also plans to verify the ballot question language of the excise tax to make sure none of the items stray from the boundaries allowed for the funds.

“I think we have a pretty good start with coming up with a list,” said mayor Janet Farmer.

“I personally enjoy the process of being proactive rather than reactive,” said Lehnertz. “This process of engagement is incredibly positive.”

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