County housing proposals stir controversy
A set of county housing regulations mandating low income housing could be law in a week.
The Eagle County Board of Commissioners, however, postponed a decision Tuesday until Sept. 16, when all three members of the board are expected to be present. Commissioner Arn Menconi, who supports the regulations, and Commissioner Tom Stone, who opposes them, were on hand Tuesday, but Commissioner Michael Gallagher was in Denver, representing the county in a meeting with the Federal Aviation Administration.
In a nutshell, the housing regulations would require both commercial and residential developers to create low income housing. The stated goal is to help offset strains on the local housing market that their projects create.
Not problem free
Tuesday’s public hearing gave an airing to what some developers and business leaders said were weaknesses in the plan.
Eagle Valley Chamber of Commerce Director Tim Cochrane pointed out that people could work themselves right out of their homes. He said those taking advantage of the program could move into one of the low income units, but if their incomes increased significantly they would no longer be eligible to live in their homes.
“I can’t support something that penalizes people for hard work and success,” said Cochrane.
The county’s planning commission built income restrictions into the regulations, saying they felt that when people’s incomes increase, they should move out of these low income homes and up in the real estate market. The planning commission said that would help ensure a steady supply of low income housing in Eagle County.
The policies would force commercial developers to pay their housing fees up front, then pass that cost along to tenants. But those who spoke against the regulations said it could take up to 10 years to make that money back.
“We need sales tax revenue,” said Cochrane. “On the commercial side of these regulations, we need to find ways to create incentives, not penalties. We need to rethink the commercial side of this.”
Ken Kris, developer of Two Rivers Village in Dotsero, said county regulations have already added hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cost of his project. He said the new housing regulations would add between $18,000 and $20,000 to the cost of each Two Rivers house.
Philosophy and funding
Menconi and Stone are diametrically opposed in their views of creating low-income housing through regulation.
Menconi said county staff members and volunteers from the community have spent hundreds of hours in dozens of meetings bringing the regulation package to the point of a decision by the commissioners. He said the regulation package has twice been approved by the county planning commission.
“I want to go forward with the regulations that the planning commission has embraced on two occasions,” said Menconi.
But Stone was unimpressed.
“We shouldn’t do something just because we’ve spent a lot of time on it, but only because we should do it, and for no other reason,” said Stone.
Menconi pointed out that only 1.9 percent of the county’s housing stock is deed restricted, and that the market could easily absorb an increase. But Stone said he prefers no deed restrictions.
“The government is not here to provide for people, but to help people provide for themselves,” said Stone.
Stone said the commercial fees might be too onerous, and that the county might be better served if the regulations were not regulations, but guidelines.
“Making a small, incremental change won’t stop the presses and send the economy into ruins to ask developers to set aside some inventory,” said Menconi.
Menconi said the regulations go beyond numbers and charts. He said they’re part of building community, and creating opportunity.
“Eagle County is one of the richest counties in the nation, and with affluence comes the responsibility of providing for other people,” said Menconi. “I stand on the possibility of future generations to own their own homes.”
Regulations by the numbers
– Inclusionary housing: Build a residential housing project of four or more units, and you must create some low and moderate income housing with it – up to 10 percent of the project.
– Employee housing: Residential developments are subject to employee housing requirements, based on the size of the house. The bigger the house, the more employees it creates.
– Commercial development is subject to employee ratios. A new business must create enough housing to house less than 10 percent of its workforce.
– Based on a two-bedroom unit with a three-person household, with a household income of $50,850, these units would be available for workers to purchase at $187,103. The market price for that unit is $223,125.
– Part of the regulations make these houses available only to people whose incomes are below 100 percent of Eagle County’s median income. In 2003, Eagle County’s median income is $67,400 for a 3-person household.
– A developer has options: They can build the low income units, provide the county with a cash payment instead of building the units, or they can give land that meets the county’s developable standards. They can contract with a third party to build their housing for them, such as Habitat for Humanity. They can also bank housing credits for anticipated future requirements. All these units would be subject to deed restrictions.