Affordable housing

Affordable housing projects such as The Boarding House are needed in numerous communities across the state. (File photo)

A lack of affordable housing doesn’t just bedevil Telluride, it challenges communities across the state, so much so that last October a bipartisan group of state senators and representatives sat down with diverse stakeholders ranging from the Colorado Association of Realtors to Habitat for Humanity to Ski Country USA, plus local government representatives, to examine the issue.

Town of Telluride Program Director Lance McDonald and San Miguel County Commissioner Hilary Cooper, who keeps an eye on matters at the state level on behalf of the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), participated in the stakeholder group.

“Affordable housing has been a stated goal of the San Miguel County BOCC for the last two years,” Cooper said. “The county has some land, but no real funding to participate in the development of housing. Working with commissioners from other mountain towns at CCAT [Counties and Communities Acting Together, a nonpartisan, independent organization that looks to influence what happens in the statehouse], we identified the common need for state funds for our higher income levels of workforce housing and made it one of our legislative priorities.”

She continued, “Over 70 affordable housing bills have been introduced unsuccessfully over the last four years. CCAT recognized the need to bring everyone to the table to create broadly supported legislation, including more flexible funding options.”

The result was a package of four legislative measures subsequently approved by the Colorado General Assembly during the 2019 legislative session that concluded last month. Gov. Jared Polis signed them into law on May 17.

Cooper gave the measures the thumbs up, expressing confidence that they would generate tangible results.

“We are working to develop proposals that will be eligible for the new funding and hope to educate community-minded developers about the new tax credits and other incentives,” Cooper said, adding, “I am confident that the new funding will go to projects in communities where housing is needed across the state.”

Katherine Borsecnik and Amy Levek, co-founders of local nonprofit Trust for Community Housing (TCH), expressed support for the new legislation.

“TCH is all about efforts that will help increase access to affordable workforce housing so we can ensure the Telluride region remains an economically and culturally diverse community,” Borsecnik said.

Added Levek, “State funding for affordable housing has been very limited in the past, both in amount and purpose. The legislation passed will really boost support for new projects in a meaningful way, and also make it available for a wider range of projects. For instance, in the past, state programs were not as available to mountain communities as they were to Front Range, urban cities. The legislature changed that this year.”

Two of the measures — HB19-1245 and HB19-1322 — funnel more money into the state’s Housing Development Grant Fund, “creating much needed funds for the improvement, preservation and expansion of affordable housing at up to 120 percent Area Medium Income,” according to Cooper. HB19-1245 caps the amount of sales tax revenue that retailers can retain to cover their administrative collection costs, and allocates those to the fund.

The second, HB19-1322, authorizes the state treasurer to transfer money into the housing fund from the Unclaimed Property Trust Fund.

The third piece of legislation, HB19-1228, seeks to stimulate developer interest in affordable housing by increasing, from $5 million to $10 million, the aggregate cap in low-income housing tax credits. A fourth, HB19-1319, requires an inventory of state land to determine the potential for housing projects, and limits the state’s clawback on property tax credits for low income housing projects.

Cooper said the measures work in different ways to tackle the housing crisis.

“Addressing the shortage of affordable housing across the state is going to take multiple solutions,” she said. “This package includes new funding, new incentives for developers and the potential for new land available for development.

Cooper acknowledged that, while San Miguel County will most definitely benefit from the new measures, different elements contained in the legislation will aid communities differently.

“These bills were developed through a broad stakeholder process that included [entities ranging from] advocates for urban homelessness to workforce needs in mountain communities; the business, real estate and development industry; and elected officials, so the solutions produced were widely needed,” she said. “The shortage of affordable housing is one of the top challenges for communities across the state, so although every solution may not produce more housing for us, they will for others around the state.”

According to Cooper, those diverse stakeholders worked closely with state senators and representatives throughout — a level of involvement that is expected to continue.

“We met in person and by phone multiple times before and during the legislative session to develop the concepts, help draft the language and then testify and work the statehouse as they were moving through the process,” she said. “We also identified additional needs and formed ongoing stakeholder groups to consider additional solutions.”