Community brainstorms affordable housing

Conversation shift from “you need to help us” to “we need your help”

[ By Kendra Walker ]

About 60 members of the Crested Butte community showed up last week to Butte Bagels to express their concerns with the current local housing crisis and brainstorm ideas for how to help solve the problem. The takeaways: show up to the conversation and be a part of the solution.

Butte Bagels owners Cole Thomas and Eric Rankin, who had spoken up at a recent council meeting expressing their concerns about housing and hinting at organizing a possible Fourth of July Elk Avenue business strike, hosted the May 26 community meeting.

Both Thomas and Rankin noted that over the past couple weeks since, they’d had the opportunity to learn about what the town and regional partners across the county are currently working on regarding affordable housing (see Crested Butte News article “The affordable housing conundrum: What’s out there and what’s coming soon in the Gunnison Valley” from May 28 issue).
“We got totally schooled. The town is working super hard,” said Thomas, who emphasized that a Fourth of July strike was no longer on the table. But he pointed out that folks have to show up to town meetings to advocate for change, “This turnout [tonight] is way bigger than a council meeting,” said Thomas.

Rankin agreed, “We as a town have to come to council meetings and present these ideas,” he said. ”We all want the same thing. We all want to live here.”

Several members of Crested Butte town staff, town council and Mt. Crested Butte town council attended the meeting and helped provide information and answer questions about what’s happening in the valley to create more affordable housing. They also encouraged folks to continue the conversation at upcoming events, including the Town Picnic on June 4 at Rainbow Park, the next town council meeting on June 7 through Zoom and a Gunnison Valley Community Forum focusing on the housing crisis on June 9 at the CB Center for the Arts.

Shifting the conversation
Attendees agreed that the conversation needs to shift from complaining about the issue to working together to find solutions. Additionally, folks agreed the community mentality around affordable housing needs to be more inclusive to all Crested Buttians – local workers, business owners, part-time residents, second homeowners, etc. Solving the housing crisis is in everyone’s best interest, someone pointed out, as finding a solution that allows local employees to live here will help our local businesses thrive and will also allow for visitors and second homeowners to enjoy this place to its fullest (and for property values and short-term rental revenues to stay at desirable levels).

Many in the crowd also emphasized that second homeowners are not the enemy; many go out of their way to rent their homes long-term to locals, regularly patronize local establishments and donate to local non-profits. Rather than pointing fingers, educating them would be more productive. Many restaurant employees talked about putting up signs or banners explaining the reason for short staffing, longer waits and decreased business hours was due to lack of housing, and encouraging donations to the Valley Housing Fund.

“If we say, ‘We need your help vs. you need to help us,’ that’s calling on them, that’s giving them a choice,” said Thomas. “We need your help to preserve this beautiful community, therefore we need a little bit of money each year to help protect your investment. You’ve invested in this valley, you’ve invested in every restaurant by owning property here. Every single thing that you’ve put into the valley you’re going to get out of it.”

Many in the crowd supported the idea of coordinating a “business spirit week” and fundraising event this summer to help educate visiting part-time homeowners and visitors, and raise awareness and funds for affordable housing.

Brainstorming solutions
Other suggestions that came up included temporarily lifting restrictions on homeowners renting their yards or driveways so locals being pushed out of housing had a place to camp, or designating a space in town for locals to temporarily camp as they search for housing. Some attendees expressed concerns about the new designated camping rules that will make it more difficult for locals that typically rely on camping for housing during the summer.

Short-term rentals (STR) were a popular topic as well, and folks suggested lowering the cap on STRs in town, offering tax incentives to homeowners who rent to locals, putting a moratorium on STRs or even prohibiting STRs altogether. Another idea was to update STR licenses to require that homeowners rent certain months of the year to locals; for example, rent to locals for nine months of the year and utilize the other three months for short-term rentals.

Mt. Crested Butte council member Lauren Koelliker suggested that folks reach out to homeowners with STRs to see what it would take for them to house a local and switch their STR to a long-term rental.

As far as possible taxes, prior to the pandemic the Crested Butte town council had discussed the possibility of an empty house tax or “Community Preservation Fee,” which would charge a tax on STRs or houses that sit empty most of the year in which the funds would go toward the town’s affordable housing fund. Others thought a fund similar to 1% for Open Space could be started, with the revenue going to affordable housing opportunities.

“What Eric and Cole have done is super impressive. There’s so much money and effort going into this, but there’s a lot of context,” said CB town council member Will Dujardin. “I encourage everyone to continue these conversations.”

The housing crisis forum is on June 9, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Center for the Arts, and the community is invited to come with thoughts, concerns and questions about upcoming affordable housing projects and developments.

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