Basalt sets big goal for affordable housing |

Basalt sets big goal for affordable housing

BASALT, Colorado ” Basalt, Colorado plans to add 200 units of deed-restricted affordable housing in the town by the end of 2012 even though recession has temporarily eased demand.

The national economic crisis has flooded the midvalley market with vacant rental housing and paralyzed sales, but town officials want to get new rules in place for when prevailing conditions return.

An assessment prepared by a consultant concluded in December that the town needs about 1,000 units for all income levels just to “catch up” to existing demands and “keep up” with future growth. Another 400 units will be needed on the town’s fringes, like in El Jebel, the report said.

Before the brunt of the recession hit, the assessment showed that nearly 150 jobs were unfilled in Basalt because employers couldn’t find workers. Additional housing would enable more people to live in Basalt and make it easier for employers to hire workers, the study said.

The study also found that about 1,800 workers commuted into Basalt for work, at least they did as of last fall. About 27 percent of those workers would live in the town if they could find affordable housing, a survey showed. Overcrowding of existing units creates additional demand for new units.

The study, which was released in December, claimed Basalt will add 1,210 jobs by 2012. “Depending upon the depth and length of the current recession, the projection of future demand based on job growth in Basalt may be overstated,” the report acknowledged. That seems to be the case right now. Layoffs have been widespread in the last couple of months.

Assuming the economy turns around and the study is accurate, 47 percent of Basalt employers surveyed said they intend to add positions in the next five years ” creating the need for roughly 560 additional residences for that growth.

Basalt has a general fund budget of less than $5 million so it cannot afford to tackle the demand by itself. The town council worked with Julie Ann Woods of Elk Mountains Consulting to set a goal of providing 200 affordable housing units over the next four years. Those units would have restrictions on sales prices and appreciation rates as well as limits on buyer assets.

No new rules have been adopted yet, but the council and Woods, a former Aspen city planner, are devising ways to add those units. Possibilities include tougher requirements on future development projects, persuading property owners to add accessory dwelling units, public-private partnerships on new projects and incentives to get developers to construct units that are approved but unbuilt.

The Basalt council also wants to explore meaningful ways to preserve the high degree of local ownership of housing and prevent the takeover by second homeowners. The housing assessment study showed that 84 percent of Basalt units are owned by residents of the town or of the neighboring counties.

“You’re pretty lucky to have that big of a percentage in a resort area,” Woods said.

While the entire council expressed an interest in policy stating that Basalt wants to preserve that level of local ownership, some members hedged on adopting specific rules designed to achieve the goal. Councilman Chris Seldin lobbied for meaningful rules rather than enacting “a nifty policy and patting ourselves on the back.”

Woods was asked to return at a future meeting with ideas for preserving Basalt’s full-time locals.

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