Roberts: How I’m working for affordable housing
More must be done to make housing affordable and attainable in our mountain communities. I am certainly not the first person to say that, as affordable housing for our workforce has been a lingering issue in our region.
Local efforts by government, nonprofits and the private sector have made critical steps to develop housing and enact policies that make housing more affordable. Now, I am happy to report, the state of Colorado is about to become a major partner in those efforts.
In August, I was appointed by the Speaker of the Colorado House to the Affordable Housing Transformational Task Force — a bipartisan panel of lawmakers and housing experts tasked with allocating the $400 million that Colorado received from the American Rescue Plan for housing. I have been serving on that task force as the only member from Western Colorado.
Through our months of meetings, extensive research and hours of public testimony (including from community housing leaders, such as Habitat for Humanity’s Elyse Howard, Eagle County Commissioner Matt Scherr and Avon Mayor Sarah Smith-Hymes), we are on the cusp of finalizing our recommendations that portend exciting opportunities for affordable housing in Eagle County.
Last week, the task force approved with a bipartisan vote of 14-1 transformational recommendations on how the state should invest this funding, support local efforts and make a large dent in our affordable housing crisis. Here are those recommendations:
- A low-interest revolving loan fund supporting new developments, upgrades to existing housing, property conversions and nontraditional housing capacity in communities where COVID-19 has significantly impacted housing affordability and availability, like the mountain resort communities. These funds would be available to local governments and nonprofits, but also to private developers, small businesses and others who are equipped to increase affordable housing stock.
- Streamlined grant funding to nonprofits and local governments that are supporting affordable housing development. These types of resources could spur projects on the Colorado Department of Transportation parcel in EagleVail, the potential “next Miller Ranch,” but also smaller developments, hotel conversions or micro-housing projects.
- Funding for preserving existing affordable housing and future development opportunities through land banking, land trusts and community-owned land.
- Sustainable rental assistance and incentives for landlords to keep renters in their leases and incentives to rent long-term rather than converting to short-term rentals.
- Business and tax incentives for modular housing development. This is a win-win by encouraging companies to open modular housing factories in our state, creating hundreds of jobs, and increase the availability of safe and modern homes that can be installed quickly.
As the task force’s sole Western Colorado member, I have also pushed for including several region-specific policy recommendations that will be delivered to the Legislature, along with the funding recommendations:
- Updating the area median income qualifications for housing assistance to reflect our area’s higher wages and cost of living, so that affordable housing does not become unattainable just because of where you work.
- While this issue of short-term rentals may be challenging to address at a state-level, we hope to incentivize more local decision-making, free-market solutions and a balance between private property rights and workforce needs.
- A statewide review of building codes, zoning codes, and other construction-related regulations and fees that may impede development.
Next, we’ll finalize this report and deliver it to the Legislature, where recommendations will get turned into bills that begin the legislative process in January. The goal is to allocate the funding, change policies and start seeing projects move forward as early as this summer.
Ensuring that our communities can house the people who make our region run is just as much a personal issue for individuals and families as it is for our broader economic infrastructure, and that is why I am prioritizing this issue at the Capitol and pressing on every lever I can. This task force is a major step forward, but I am also preparing legislation to allow communities and counties to use their lodging tax revenue to support workforce housing and other-related costs associated with our tourism and recreation economies, among several other ideas. It is an “all options on the table” approach right now.
Can we build our way out of this problem? Of course not. Can we solve this issue with more funding alone? Again, no. However, I am pleased to report that significant work is finally being done at the state level to address this urgent need, and I am optimistic about the future.
As always, please contact me about this topic or any others. My cell is 970-846-3054, and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rep. Dylan Roberts serves Eagle County and Routt County in the Colorado State House.