Housing projects ID’d, despite dropping of ballot measure

Campaign was to begin soon on tax proposal ~ Chris Rourke Times Staff Writer

The wheels have come to a grinding halt — for now — on the possibility of a countywide dedicated funding stream for affordable housing. Tuesday, Gunnison County Commissioners voted to oppose the measure’s placement on the November ballot (see related story). However, affordable housing proponents shared with the Times in recent days details of the proposal, should it have been pitched to voters. The measure sought by the Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority (GVRHA) would have asked voters to approve a 1.5 mill increase on property taxes to be funneled to affordable housing projects. The nonprofit Gunnison Valley Housing Foundation (GVHF) had begun to form a campaign committee. GVHF board chairman Jim Starr said this week that private donors were contributing campaign funds, and messaging was being refi ned. “It’s still in the works but it will be a combination of messaging and statistics, and showing the current impacts of not having enough workforce housing in the county,” Starr said prior to commissioners’ vote to halt the effort. “We’ll also be identifying the projects for which the money will be used.” The committee recognized it needed something to pitch to voters. GVRHA Executive Director Jennifer Kermode worked to refine a list of projects — some identified prior to the housing authority seeking the tax measure. The list included projects in Crested Butte — continued development of lots 79 and 80 and 22-26 units built through “Space to Create.” The latter development would provide artists both living and work space. Crested Butte leaders are also planning the construction of seven town-owned employee rentals and a possible partnership with Gunnison Watershed RE1J School District for two units. In Mt. Crested Butte, 22 units are planned for the Homestead subdivision which would be deed restricted for local workforce. North Village — a 17-acre parcel — has also been targeted for development. Western State Colorado University, Kermode said, is considering land adjacent to property owned by Gunnison County in northeast Gunnison near the Rock Creek subdivision. Thirty units could be built, Kermode said, which would target incomes around 120 percent of the area median. Kermode said tax dollars would not be used for construction of the university units. However, the housing authority could be asked to administer the property. Western’s Foundation also owns property to the east of campus which could be developed. Kermode also said RE1J leaders are considering building on the lot where the former bus barn is located off 11th Street. Development of Lot 22 in northeast Gunnison is on the radar of Gunnison County leaders. They recently published a request for proposals (RFP) for the construction of two four-plexes in Stallion Park south of Crested Butte. Kermode indicated that due to the cost of such proposals, county leaders have chosen to design the project in-house and will put an RFP out to contractors to build. Kermode said a lot in the Pitchfork subdivision in Mt. Crested Butte was planned, although the parcel is narrow, so it was not high on the list of priorities. Two multi-family lots in Larkspur, she said, could be built through private-public partnerships. Gunnison city leaders also recently identified the need to provide 150 affordable units, which would begin construction in 2019. It remains to be seen which of the above projects still unfold without a dedicated revenue stream. Kermode said tax dollars could have been utilized to install infrastructure, bringing down the cost of construction for private developers. Th e developers could then have been able to build the units at a certain price point and sell them to buyers at GVRHA approval prices with deed restrictions. Much of this process would have followed community engagement. The passage of the tax increase would have provided benefits other than just dedicated revenue. Kermode said that typically money dedicated to affordable housing by a community can be leveraged three to four times its amount. Lending and granting entities, such as through the state Division of Housing, federal Community Development Block Grants or Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, are interested in communities who have recognized their need for housing and have made an investment themselves. “Now is the time for housing to be a priority,” Kermode said prior to commissioners’ vote. “If we don’t go on the ballot this year and we don’t win this year, that’s another two years without a dedicated funding stream to start pushing these things and making things happen on the ground.” GVHF’s Starr said campaigning in earnest was expected to begin sometime after Labor Day in preparation for what was expect to be the November ballot question.

(Chris Rourke can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at chris.rourke@gunnisontimes.com.)