Eagle County’s Roberts on legislative task force for federal housing funding

Avon Democrat is the only Western Slope representative

Dylan Roberts has a tall task ahead.

Roberts, an Avon Democrat who represents Eagle and Routt counties in the Colorado House of Representatives, is one of 10 members of a legislative task force working to recommend ways to allocate $400 million in federal funds for housing initiatives. The task force is split evenly between representatives and senators, with five members from each party. The group will start meeting in August.

Roberts is the only representative from the Western Slope.

In addition to the legislative members, the task force also includes 10 other members. The only Western Slope member in that group is Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue.

Roberts said he and Pogue will have to work hard to make sure the Western Slope’s “unique struggles” are understood by the larger group.

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Roberts said the task force will solicit both written and in-person feedback from other state residents.

While the state’s larger cities will certainly have their hands in the air seeking pieces of the $400 million pie, Roberts said “It’s going to take recognition by the rest of the committee that some parts of the state are struggling more than others. That includes mountain and rural communities on the Western Slope.

‘Non-financial’ options

In addition to distributing funds, Roberts said he wants to ensure that the task force also looks at “non-financial” policies including short-term rentals, building codes and regulatory hurdles to building workforce housing.

But, Roberts, added, any legislative action has to ensure that local communities ultimately decide what to do with any money they receive.

“I don’t want a one-size-fits-all approach,” Roberts said.

Eagle County Housing Director Kim Bell Williams said one of the things she’d like the task force to work on is a one-size-fits-all regulation from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Federal regulations currently limit funding to projects serving those who make 80% or less of the Area Median Income. That number as of 2019 was just less than $85,000 per household.

Rep. Dylan Roberts of Avon speaks on the benefits of a bill to continue alcohol beverage takeout and delivery before Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed it into law on June 21 at Northside Kitchen in Avon. Roberts is the lone Western Slope legislator

Bell Williams said that limit doesn’t help a growing sector of the local population. Williams said that “missing middle” group earns between 80% and 140% of the Area Median Income.

“There are a lot of those people struggling to find a home to buy or rent,” Bell Williams said.

“We need higher (Area Median Income) levels, probably statewide,” she added.

Help continue successes

Vail Housing Director George Ruther said he’d encourage Roberts and other task force members to look to communities that have demonstrated some successes in creating more workforce housing, and use those communities to get more accomplished.

But, Ruther acknowledged, the current housing crisis is statewide, and includes urban, rural and resort areas.

Ruther said investing some of the new pot of money in resort regions can help more than just a single community.

One potential problem with so little Western Slope representation on the task force may be that resort areas are seen as being flush with money, Ruther said.

Additionally, “Sometimes I think there’s a belief that some of these… challenges are kind of self-created,” Ruther said. “I don’t see it that way … the needs in (farming communities) are no greater than in other communities.”

Whatever recommendations the task force makes, Roberts said the state has a unique chance to make some real progress on a pressing problem.

“Historically, Colorado has a tight state budget,” Roberts said. “We don’t have the opportunity to have hundreds of millions put into housing and behavioral health.”

Four facts

A total of $850 million in federal funds is available.

$400 million will be dedicated to housing.

$450 million will be dedicated to behavioral health.

Task forces on those issues will recommend legislation to the Colorado Legislature in 2022.

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