Eagle County: Stop hand-wringing and start spending to address local housing crisis
Commissioners signal willingness to drop $10 million on various programs to increase workforce housing options
Eagle County’s leaders are well aware there is a local housing crisis, but they aren’t particularly interested in formally stating the obvious.
With that in mind, local residents probably won’t see a formal housing crisis declaration from the Eagle Board of County Commissioners like those issued by other mountain communities. But residents may see a $10 million commitment for new programs aimed at actually addressing the issue.
The county currently has $30 million in its reserve fund, and this week the commissioners indicated their willingness to commit up to one-third of that money toward solutions for the local housing problem.
“I am much more in favor of spending reserves and doing things rather than wringing our hands and declaring a housing crisis. That doesn’t create units, but these things would,” Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry said during a Monday work session.
The “things” that Chandler-Henry referenced were outlined in a memo authored by staff from the Eagle County Housing Department and presented to the commissioners for initial reaction. Titled “Housing Bold Moves,” the options included quick actions, medium-term solutions and long-term goals. Additionally, the memo offered suggestions for in-house actions the county could pursue to assist its own employees.
“What you have before you is really a presentation of ideas we have vetted,” county Finance Director Jill Klosterman said. Klosterman said the proposal represents ideas and not dollars. An actual budget would need to be developed to proceed.
The memo did attach projected costs and timelines for the various ideas, which range from increasing the loan amount available from the county’s fund from $15,000 to $50,000 to partnering with other entities to build new housing.
Klosterman said the intent of this week’s meeting was to find out which ideas resonate with the commissioners and to get an idea of the budget priorities.
“None of this is free,” she warned.
Even though the options aimed at addressing the local housing shortage quickly become pricey, Eagle County Housing Director Kim Bell Williams noted the need for programs is dire.
“Right now at the Valley Home Store we have a wait list of 400 buyers, and that’s the most we have ever had,” she said.
Expanding the county loan fund maximum from $15,000 to $50,000 was idea No. 1 outlined on the memo. It could immediately address one of the obstacles to home ownership for some county residents.
“(The current loan program) is well known in the community and it is well used,” Williams said. She noted the cost associated with expanding the loan maximum would include a one-time, upfront expenditure of up to $1 million.
But getting a loan to help with a down payment doesn’t help if there is nothing to purchase. Currently, the median price for a single-family home in Eagle County is $800,000, and that’s the focus of the second idea outlined in the bold moves memo.
A proposed buy-down program would purchase deed restrictions on existing units within Eagle County. Similar programs — such as Vail InDEED and Mi Casa Avon — are already in place. Williams noted that paying up to $125,000 for a deed restriction aimed at keeping local residents in existing housing is much cheaper than building new units.
Moving on to medium-term solutions, the memo proposed assistance for local buyers to make cash offers on open market properties. The Eagle County Housing and Development Authority would provide the upfront cash for the purchase, which would then be resold to a prequalified program buyer. The program would help local buyers remain competitive in hot real estate markets such as the current environment in Eagle County. This solution would be pricey — up to $4 million to assist 25 buyers.
Another medium-range proposal is to provide incentives for property owners to rent to local workers rather than offer units as short-term rentals.
“There may be a lot of people who are making quite a bit of money on short-term rentals, and that may be difficult to give up,” Williams acknowledged.
The incentive program would offer owners relief from the hassles associated with short-term rents by providing property management services for workforce rentals. That could be an attractive option, the commissioners noted.
“This is an idea of how to get rental units back into the open market relatively quickly,” Klosterman added.
The estimated cost is $12,000 per unit per year and the program goal is 40 units. That adds up to an annual estimated cost of $480,000.
A final medium-level solution is to fund the building out of accessory dwelling units, which would then become workforce rental units. Property owners could use county loans to build kitchens, bathrooms and entrances in basement areas, over garages or in other suitable locations and get breaks on loan payoffs by agreeing to rent to local workers. The drawback to the plan is some neighborhoods don’t allow mother-in-law apartments. The memo estimates a cost of $50,000 per unit with a goal of 20 units for a total cost of $1 million.
“It’s a great idea, if we can get there,” Williams said.
Adding up the estimated costs for these quick-fix and medium-range programs, the total comes to nearly $10 million. The really expensive options would cost more on top of that.
Looking long term
The memo’s large-scale housing proposals include pursuing land-use entitlements so the county can proceed with residential development on any property it currently owns, such as the fairgrounds land in Eagle or the property near the maintenance building off Cooley Mesa Road in Gypsum. The financial estimate for such action isn’t too high — estimated at $650,000 — but it would likely see political ramifications.
The county could also pursue building a RV or tiny home park at the fairgrounds or the Gypsum maintenance property. The cost estimate for that plan is $1 million for as many as 30 spaces.
Another long-range idea is to purchase price-capped deed-restricted units in new developments. This program would be similar to the current Eagle Ranch Local Housing Program. At an estimated cost of $250,000 for each unit, that adds up to $4 million for 16 units and it is dependent on other residential development happening in the county.
And finally, the county could partner with another entity to build a new housing project. The cost estimates for this option range from $15 million to $25 million — a hefty price tag that would require a new funding source. This week, the county began the process to see if an existing asset could provide those dollars.
Last week, Eagle County Housing and Development Authority announced it had entered into a listing agreement with Colliers International for Lake Creek Village Apartments in Edwards. The intention of the listing is to determine if there are partners available in the marketplace that would allow the housing authority to utilize its equity in Lake Creek to create additional affordable housing units.
The listing does not mean change for the Lake Creek Apartments operation.
“The housing authority’s first priority is to serve the 975 current residents living in the 270 units at Lake Creek,” noted the county’s listing announcement. “The listing requires a partner to keep the rental rates at 75% of area median income within a future partnership. The importance of long-term affordability is the authority’s highest priority.”
But money generated from an ownership partnership could be used to invest in future projects, Williams noted. What’s more, there has been considerable interest since the listing was announced — 178 people have filled out the required real estate agreement at lakecreekvillage.co.
With the commissioners’ comments now in hand, Klosterman said the county housing staff will flesh out the proposals and come back with actual budget suggestions. A supplemental budget action, which would clear the way for staff to start work to bring new programs on line, is eyed for late July to early August.
The commissioners applauded the ideas presented Monday and noted that other options may come from the general public. At this point in the housing crisis, the commissioners believe that all ideas are up for consideration. Additionally, they stressed that it is time to start funding ideas that have potential to help ease the local housing crisis.
“This does feel like something different than what we have tried to do for the last several decades,” Chandler-Henry noted after the memo discussion Monday. “It feels like what the community wants from us.”