Eagle County wants to form housing authority | VailDaily.com

Eagle County wants to form housing authority

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” To get more affordable housing built in the valley, the county wants to form a “housing authority,” an approach that has been taken in both Summit and Pitkin counties.

The county commissioners would preside over the housing authority, whose main goal would be to build affordable homes and buy free market homes to resell at affordable prices in the county. Initially, it would not be funded by a tax, unlike those in other counties.

Forming the authority would give the county greater flexibility in investing money, selling or buying land, making bylaws or rules pertaining to housing, and managing any affordable homes the county owns, said County Commissioner Arn Menconi.

“I think it should be apparent that the county is trying to take leadership in listening to residents and producing affordable housing. This is one tool to do that,” Menconi said.

As a housing authority, county officials could develop land and acquire property, said County Housing Director Alex Potente.

County officials can do those things now, but as a housing authority, it is easier to do so, he said.

Don Cohen, president of the Eagle County Economic Council compared the county’s plan to a company forming a separate corporation to handle its financial matters.

“This is definitely something simple to manage housekeeping now, but it could lead to something more,” he said.

That “something more” could be a larger housing authority involving the towns and valley businesses in the future, said County Commissioner Peter Runyon.

Under state law, a multijurisdictional authority as described by Runyon, also has the power to tax.

However, an agency with taxing power is not in the near future, said Menconi

“I don’t think this community is ready for a (tax). We have to do things incrementally and see how ready people are to accept that,” he said.

The county has not had serious talks with any towns about joining the housing authority, said Potente.

“This is not something the county wants to force on other communities. ‘Housing authority’ can have bad connotations in a bureaucratic sense that we want to avoid. This really just gives us more flexibility in getting affordable housing stock in the ground,” he said.

To form the authority, there must be a petition signed by 25 residents, a public hearing and a vote. The county commissioners hope to get the authority started within the next two months.

The housing authority is only one of several ways the county is trying to build affordable homes. In January the county commissioners invested $4.5 million in Stratton Flats, a project that will bring 226 deed-restricted homes to Gypsum.

They are also close to approving a new set of housing guidelines for new residential and commercial projects, despite resistance from some valley developers, who say the requirements will hurt building in the area.

The guidelines would require residential developers to build about a third of the total square footage of their projects as affordable or locally-owned housing. Developers of commercial projects would have to build affordable housing for all the jobs it creates except for those on the highest end of the pay scale.

Eagle-Vail resident Katherine Kelly said she thinks those are good steps, since affordable housing is badly needed the community.

In a resort community, there have to be places to live for the people who run services, she said.

“Even for me, I think I make decent money, but I can’t afford to buy anything here,” she said.

But Eagle-Vail resident Peter Theune said he thinks the county’s policies could hurt development and businesses.

The valley needs affordable housing, but ultimately that is not what is bringing money to the area, he said.

“It’s a problem that’s always going to be here. Ever since Vail has been here, affordable housing has always been a problem,” he said.

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

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