Commissioners: All tools needed for housing
“I am a fan of the market, but when it comes to affordable housing the market has failed you.”
” Tony Salazar, nationally acclaimed developer and Chairman of the 2006 Urban Land Institute Advisory Panel on Housing in the Eagle Valley.
In fall 2006, the Vail Valley Foundation sponsored a panel of experts from the Urban Land Institute to study workforce housing in the Eagle Valley. This group found that we currently lack thousands of for-sale and rental housing affordable to Eagle Valley’s workforce. The panel concluded that the free market alone was not adequately addressing the housing needs of employers and residents and recommended using a host of tools to create housing for Eagle County’s workforce.
One of these tools is the public-private partnership. The Urban Land Institute’s panel report is available at http://www.eaglecounty.us/housing/documents.cfm.
Eagle County has a successful history in using public-private partnerships to create affordable housing. In the early ’90s, Eagle County partnered with Corum Real Estate to build the Lake Creek Village Apartments, which included 270 rental units in Edwards.
More recently, the town of Vail partnered with a developer to build the 142 rental-unit Middle Creek complex. The county also partnered with the developer ASW to build Miller Ranch, a 270-unit, for-sale community affordable to locals. Miller Ranch, a bipartisan effort, is one of the best examples of affordable for-sale housing in the United States. Many of its residents have used the appreciation in these units to move into free-market units. Others have moved up to larger units within Miller Ranch. Yet the units remain affordable. Miller Ranch houses are in high demand: as many 40 people bid on a single home. A recent survey showed that Eagle County residents want more Miller Ranches.
Stratton Flats, a 339-unit development in Gypsum, is another Miller Ranch. Like Miller Ranch, the county partnered with a developer, contributing $4.5 million. Like Miller Ranch, Stratton Flats will be built over several years. And like Miller Ranch, there is some risk in the partnership. But the gains are substantial: an initial $4.5 million investment nets the community 226 affordable units discounted over $10 million and the return of the entire $4.5 million investment plus 6 percent interest.
People continue to ask, what happens if homes don’t sell or if the developer goes bankrupt? The county has cure rights very similar to a deed of trust. Originally, the county had recorded a deed of trust on the property, but the bank required release of the deed when the project was financed. The developer must convey the land to the county, and the county must refinance any existing debt. Refinancing does not necessarily require a popular vote. Regardless, this is an unlikely scenario; the developer only needs to sell two units per month to satisfy the construction lender.
Last year, two county-conducted surveys showed affordable housing and growth management to be the top priorities for our community. If we are to take seriously the Urban Land Institute’s charge to build more housing stock affordable to our workforce and seniors, public and private entities must work together in a collaborative fashion. We need to use all of the tools at our disposal: public-private partnerships, inclusionary housing requirements for new developments, downpayment assistance, fee waivers and public financing. As illustrated by Stratton Flats, none of these alone gets the job done. Together, they are highly effective. We must be leaders and work tirelessly to solve this problem that is having dramatic effects on our economy and our quality of life.
As your county commissioners, we are working for a community that aims to be the national leader in building housing for its workforce, an appropriate role given our status as a world-class resort community. We should continue to do so, using all of the tools at our disposal.
The Eagle County commissioners are Sara Fisher, Arn Menconi and Peter Runyon.
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