Prioritizing support for critical and core workforce
by Mark Reaman
While no new affordable housing goals were clearly defined by the Crested Butte town council at a one-hour work session on March 6, council does want to continue looking at alternatives that could guide them into the future of workforce housing in town. While the town is involved with several upcoming housing projects, the discussion focused on philosophy.
The work session included the annual review of the town’s housing direction, along with a look at what the five-year planning goals, set in 2018, have achieved and what goals should be set from here. Generally, it appeared council wanted to prioritize future housing opportunities for town employees, followed by employees of special districts and quasi-governmental agencies like the RE1J school district, Mountain Express and Crested Butte Fire Protection District.
Crested Butte community development director Troy Russ said staff was actively working on addressing the housing issue on many fronts. In a PowerPoint presentation to the council, it was acknowledged that there was no “silver bullet” to rectify the workforce housing shortage and that the response should be comprehensive in scope.
Crested Butte housing director Erin Ganser asked council to specifically define what the council’s purpose was in addressing housing so staff could come back with a draft goal statement and suggested success measures. She asked, for example, if the goal was to support the current local economy, to grow the economy, to strengthen the community, or was it to make the economy and community more resilient?
Town manager Dara MacDonald asked the council to state the intended purpose of building more units. “To what end is the action we are taking?” she asked. “What is the council’s goal?”
“Do we want to be surgical to achieve specific ends or just do more housing in general,” added Ganser.
Councilmember Chris Haver indicated he was more comfortable with mostly prioritizing housing for the general workforce.
Mayor Ian Billick said he was not in favor of being too specific with restricting new workforce housing. “I worry about flexibility,” he said. “I’d be concerned about creating spaces targeted to today’s specific needs and those needs could change in five years. I would want flexibility and control.”
“If we just build, build, build and we’re not sure how we do it judiciously, we instead end up just growing, growing, growing,” said councilmember Gabi Prochaska. “There are some jobs that are more important than others here. Some jobs fill real needs while others provide for comfort.”
“In a normal free market, it would fix itself,” said Russ. “But the market is broken here. So, the question is how far do you as a council want to go? Some intentionality with housing is needed just because of your limited resources.”
“I’m nervous to say what the community needs in five years,” said Billick. “That is why control is important. For me personally, keeping town employees is important, followed by employees of special districts. Then the general workforce. It is financially prudent to help the town and special district employees. Otherwise, we all end up having to support them through higher taxes needed to attract or keep them here.”
Billick made clear that he was most comfortable prioritizing town employees for workforce housing when the units in question were paid for by the town. He was less comfortable putting town employees in front of the line if the town had not contributed financially to the unit.
“I agree with the need for future control and flexibility,” said councilmember Jason MacMillan. “We should also be doing some land banking for future housing. Partnering with the community like with the school district and Mountain Express is also important.”
“The ultimate goal is to have affordable housing to whatever extent is necessary,” said councilmember Anna Fenerty.
“We have tools to keep housing affordable,” said Ganser.
“What other additional tools can we use?” asked Fenerty.
“We can come back to you with measures and strategies for the council to consider,” replied Ganser.
“There are both financial incentives and regulatory measures available,” added Russ. “Both can be used to help fix the shortcomings of the market.” He mentioned the town staff would seriously consider eliminating on-site parking requirements for accessory dwelling units (ADUs) if the council thought that was a good incentive.
“That’s where we need to know the council priorities,” said MacDonald. “You can’t do it all.”
“The goal for me is to strengthen the community so that the people living and working here can grow,” said councilmember Beth Goldstone. “Putting more support to people who make the local economy function. The current deed restrictions focused on local income makes sense. We want the people who make the local economy work to be able to live here.”
“So is the council priority on town and other government or special district employees?” asked MacDonald.
“Do we all want to preserve town employee housing?” asked Fenerty. The consensus from the rest of the council appeared to be “yes” as they cited the staff goal of expanding from the current 19 units owned by town and allocated for town employees to at least 28 units by 2029. Billick said he would be in favor of going beyond that 28-unit goal.
Fenerty pointed out some of the other goals presented by the staff were beyond the scope of the town and would need collaboration with nearby government entities like Gunnison County and Mt. Crested Butte. She also said having tangible enforcement and compliance strategies in place for deed-restricted housing was important.
“If we can curate various housing options it will better support various parts of the economy,” noted MacMillan. “A two-bedroom apartment might be good for a couple with one kid but when they want to have a bigger family, they should be able to move to a larger place. Otherwise, they might have to leave the valley.”
“If people are in, they should have the opportunities to stay in,” said Billick.
MacDonald informed the council that less than half of the current town staff lived in free market housing. “Having housing options is a critical component to attract employees,” she emphasized.
Staff will bring council some options for how prioritizing town employees and other critical workers would work.