Eagle County: Can building housing be easier? | VailDaily.com

Eagle County: Can building housing be easier?

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” The county has formed a housing authority ” something that sounds powerful and bureaucratic, but is really just a tool to help the county build and buy more workforce housing, officials said.

Commissioners voted unanimously to form the group on Tuesday after receiving the 25 signatures from county residents required by state law to form the authority. The purpose of the authority would be to manage the county’s affordable housing projects and allow the county to build homes and buy land. The county commissioners would preside over the authority.

The authority wouldn’t have the ability to tax, and it won’t require any new staff or funding.

However, it does give the county the ability to borrow and lend money and enter into contracts, said Alex Potente, managing director of the Housing and Development Department.

“If you want to get housing built, this is the way to do it,” he said.

The county can still build projects, such as affordable neighborhoods like Stratton Flats in Gypsum and Miller Ranch in Edwards, without the authority, but the process is much more difficult.

Forming a housing authority allows more protections for taxpayer money and gives the county much more control in their partnerships with developers, Potente said.

For example, if the county partners with a developer and the developer goes bankrupt, the housing authority could step in, refinance the project and take over for the developer.

However, some were wary of the future direction the housing authority might take. Avon resident and commissioner candidate Debbie Buckley said she wanted the matter to go to a public vote this November.

“Everyone in the county will be affected. My greatest concern is that there will be no taxing yet,” she said.

Potente said that in the future area governments may be interested in forming a multijurisdictional authority that would have taxing powers, but that would have to go to a public vote, he said.

“We haven’t formally approached any communities about it,” he said.

As for going to a vote this November, commissioners did not think it was necessary and would only stall any potential projects the county is considering.

“This is pretty simple stuff. Anyone in the county wanting to keep people living and working in the community would have to be in favor of this,” Commissioner Arn Menconi said.

Some were also concerned about the authority’s state-given power to condemn property. However, commissioners said that for the purposes of building affordable housing, they have no plans to condemn any property.

Many other resort communities such as Pitkin County also have similar groups, said Don Cohen, president of the Eagle County Economic Council.

“It’s not our understanding that this will create a whole new bureaucracy, but this is a limited and focused entity,” he said.

Vail Town Councilman Mark Gordon, also running for county commissioner, said he thought the smaller, county-only authority is a good way to start.

“This authority will have more power to enter negotiations and contracts. I think the county’s moving in the right direction,” he said.

Staff writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.

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