Howard: Collaborating on creative housing solutions
We’ve all read the headlines and know about the effects of the worker shortage. Like with many things, until it happens to us, it doesn’t feel real.
The ski areas are opening, and employees are returning to work … if they can find housing. There are endless social media posts where people who want to work in Vail and be part of this lively, active community are close to begging for housing — or unable to show up for work because living in a car is an unrealistic situation.
The worker shortage, due in large part to the impossibility of finding affordable housing, has long-reaching consequences and impacts us all. It’s more than the inconvenience of finding Starbucks closed at two, the grocery story operating on reduced hours and restaurants without waitstaff.
When people who provide services — from doctors to housekeepers, grocery workers to chefs — can’t find a place to live, it negatively impacts our community. The crisis touches all of us: People are priced out of buying a safe, secure home and can’t afford rent. Because of rising building costs, developers can’t build. The shortage increases and crisis deepens.
Finally, we are moving beyond conversations as the community works towards creative solutions for affordable housing. We applaud the voters of Vail and Avon who in November, passed initiatives to increase access to affordable housing. Avon voters approved a tax on short-term rentals in the town. This revenue will go towards a dedicated community housing fund. In Vail, voters approved a .5% sales tax increase. This tax could raise more than $4 million in its first year for housing.
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Creative thinking and partnerships at the higher level are the key to finding solutions. State lawmakers set aside $400 million for housing via HB21-1329 from the American Rescue Plan Act. I’ve been excited to participate in coalition with other affordable home ownership developers across the state including land trusts and modular developers to advocate to the State Affordable Housing Transformational Task Force and Subpanel for solutions that will increase affordable home ownership opportunities for Coloradans.
We’ve worked for months to provide insight and suggestions as they evaluate how to direct these funds and invest in Colorado’s housing infrastructure. State Rep. Dylan Roberts and Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue have been key voices representing rural Colorado. I am grateful for their willingness to dive into the details of the housing needs across the state. Their keen understanding of the housing issues facing our mountain communities has allowed them to respond to the need to spread funds across the entire housing continuum.
ARPA represents a historic opportunity to begin to balance unequal access to home ownership. Developing and preserving affordable home ownership opportunities for Coloradans is the best and most impactful investment of these funds. The shared-equity home ownership model used by HFH and community land trusts is proven to be one Colorado can use to expand homeownership opportunities.
A national study of deed-restricted type home ownership programs found that homeowners benefit from the program. When they sold their homes, they accumulated, on average, $14,000 in earned equity — opening a path for new homeowners to buy a house as one family moves up the housing ladder. We’ve seen this firsthand when a Habitat homeowner sells their home and moves on, able to put a significant down payment on a new home with their equity and having a new family settle into the Habitat home.
Specifically, our coalition is advocating for rapid production of for-sale housing to address inequities in the market exacerbated by COVID-19. We are advocating for grants of $75,000 per unit to affordable home ownership developers to create new affordable housing stock accessible to households up to 120% AMI. This investment would yield 2,500 new units by the end of 2024 for hardworking Coloradans.
Affordable home ownership creates transformational change for the homeowner, for the community and the state. It’s time to fully and equally fund the housing continuum. By creating affordable home ownership opportunities, Colorado will increase community wealth while fueling the economic engine of new home development.
Many Coloradans need safe, affordable homes. The task force is charged with determining the best way to invest these arguably once-in-a-lifetime dollars to create transformational change in the state’s housing infrastructure. We believe funding should be balanced across the housing continuum, that ownership is a transformational investment, and to maintain affordable prices for families, subsidy is required.
With investment, affordable home construction can increase across the state. The per unit construction cost to build a unit for home ownership is the same as to build a rental unit, however, the ownership unit yields a greater ROI: families build wealth, put down permanent roots and are key members of the community.
The value in building affordable homes is obvious. It’s more than a need — without housing within reach, we will lose valuable members of our community. I am excited that I testified at the state Capitol on Tuesday and and spoke in favor of the plan we have been working on. I believe in our work. I believe in the power of community and the strength of our collective voices to make a better world for everyone.
Elyse Howard is the director of development for Habitat Vail Valley. Learn how you can be part of the solution at HabitatVailValley.org.