|A for sale sign sits in a yard on East Third
Avenue. With the recent creation of the
La Plata County Regional Housing Authority, buying a home could
be within reach
for many more low- and moderate-income residents. Among its
duties, the multiurisdictional
authority may look at ways to offer low-interest loans for
Photo by Todd Newcomer.
I t's no secret that home prices in La Plata County are getting farther
and farther out of reach for the working class. However, some help is
also on the way for those facing an increasingly hopeless housing picture.
On July 20, the Durango City Council joined La Plata County and the
Town of Ignacio in officially creating the La Plata County Regional
Housing Authority. The hope is that the new body will unify the county
as it works to address affordable housing. The authority should begin
work in the next couple months.
There is no disputing La Plata County's affordable housing problem
for Greg Hoch, Durango city planner. "There are some elements in our
community that will always argue that the market will take care of affordable
housing," he said. "The sheer, cold, hard facts are that the market
does not. In order to meet the needs of certain segments of the community,
there needs to be some assistance."
The basic problem, Hoch said, is that local people are being priced
out of the picture. "What we're continuing to see is a gradual rise
in overall home prices to the point where there's a question of whether
they'll ever come down," he said. "If they don't come down, we have
to ask ourselves where we're going to house our workforce."
La Plata County Commissioner Bob Lieb agreed that reasonably priced
housing is a growing concern throughout the county. "I look at it as
a major issue in La Plata County, and we're not alone in the nation
or in the world," he said. "The problem, obviously, is that there are
way too many people who cannot afford the housing to maintain what I
like to call a blended community."
It is hoped that the housing authority will be an important step toward
turning back time and reopening home ownership to a segment of locals. "Everywhere
you look, the housing prices are astronomical," Hoch said. "The community
has to do something, and a lot of people felt that creating a housing
authority was a good first step, and it is."
Three Springs to mix affordable
Another sign of affordable housing progress
has surfaced at approximately the same time as
the recent formation of the La Plata County Regional
Housing Authority. As earth movers clear the
way for the new Mercy Medical Center and the
development of Grandview becomes a certainty,
a great deal of affordable housing is coming
along with it.
Durango City Planner Greg Hoch said that the
city has made it clear that it wants to see the
Southern Ute Indian Tribe have a substantial
affordable component to its 2,283-unit Three
Springs Development. Hoch noted that with annexation,
the city has powers to request whatever it wants
of a developer.
"When we annex property, the first words out
of our mouths are that this city expects affordable
housing," he said.
Pat Vaughn is the president of GF Properties,
the development arm of the Southern Ute Indian
Tribe's Growth Fund. He said that affordable
housing is going to be critical to the success
of the community that will be centered around
the expanded hospital.
"I think it's a key part of the plan," he said. "There
are going to be a number of employees in the
new Mercy Medical Center that will fit within
the requirements and having them live within
the community is going to be integral to its
Vaughn said that Three
Springs will include both "affordable" and "attainable" housing
options. The affordable housing will be earmarked
for people who make less than 80 percent of
the county's median income. Attainable housing
options will be available for people making
between 80 and 120 percent of the county's
median income. All told, an unprecedented 570
new units of affordable and attainable housing
will come online as a result of the development.
"It will have a pretty substantial effect, and
we're hoping it will be a positive impact for
the entire community," he said.
Like Hoch and Lieb, Vaughn agreed that creating
a place for the working class will be essential
to the value of Three Springs.
"It's just good planning," he said. "I
think it's something that's necessary to make
that community functional."
The tribe hopes to begin residential construction
in the Three Springs development late in 2005.
Lieb added, "It's not going to end the affordable housing problem in
La Plata County, but we're looking at it as a tool."
Work to create the group has been under way for the last two years.
The authority was originally conceived as having representation from
the municipalities of Durango, Ignacio and Bayfield, all under the umbrella
of La Plata County. However, the Town of Bayfield rejected the idea
and opted not to participate.
"I'm very proud of the efforts of a lot of people who worked for two
years to get this in place," Lieb said.
Addressing Bayfield's reluctance, he added, "Hopefully, now that the
other jurisdictions have gotten on board, Bayfield will revisit the
As planned, the authority will take on many roles, ranging from advising
local governments to planning and building housing.
"One of the authority's charges will be to make advisory recommendations," Lieb
said. "More importantly, it will become highly involved in affordable
housing development projects. We need to create more projects for the
low- and moderate-income classes."
As a multi-jurisdictional agency, the housing authority would also
have an upper hand in going after grant funding and could create a low-interest
loan program to help people come up with down payments.
"In my personal experience, the largest problem for most people is
coming up with that down payment," Lieb said.
The authority could also pick up where other entities have left off.
Interestingly, the Regional Housing Authority came online at the same
time the City of Durango hit a road block on its inclusionary housing
push. A proposed ordinance would have required that all new developments
contain affordable housing.
"The conclusion at the end of it was that we're really not sure that
this is the best thing to include at this time," Hoch said. "I don't
have any clear marching orders to prepare a public hearing process."
With a mind to the coming creation of the housing authority and the
stalled 4 ordinance, Hoch added, "That's why the idea of a housing authority
is so appealing. We'll have one entity going out there and taking care
of these issues."
In coming weeks, Durango, Ignacio and La Plata County will each submit
three candidates for consideration as board members. A search for an
executive director will get under way, and office space will be secured.
In addition, the three entities will figure out how to fund the housing
authority for the next two years. "Ultimately, the aim is to make it
self-sustaining and have it paid for by developers' fees," Hoch said.
In coming weeks, the idea of a La Plata County Regional Housing Authority
will also settle into existence.
"This isn't a super radical thing. It just took La Plata County a while
to get on board," Hoch concluded. "Even if you don't like Aspen or Telluride,
the bottom line is that those communities created housing authorities
and retained their working classes."