Opinion by Mayor Ben Bohmfalk
Affordable housing has long been Carbondale’s most vexing challenge, with limited supply, seemingly unlimited demand, and no dedicated local revenue source to address it. But change is on the horizon. With housing revenue on the Nov. 8 ballot, a Board of Trustees focused on solutions, and new opportunities at the state and local level, Carbondale is now poised to make major progress on affordable housing.
First, the ballot issues. Voters can create Carbondale’s first-ever dedicated revenue source for affordable housing by voting Yes on 2A, which places a 6% sales tax on visitors’ stays in Airbnb’s, VRBO’s, and other short-term rentals. 2A was placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the Carbondale Board of Trustees, following calls from the community to regulate and tax short-term rentals to mitigate their impact on our rental housing stock. 2A is estimated to generate about $125,000 annually; this is not enough to solve our housing crisis, but it will enable us to provide matching funds for grants and make other local investments in affordable housing.
At the state level, voting Yes on Proposition 123 will provide additional funding for affordable housing when state revenues generate a budget surplus. Carbondale will be able to apply for funding from this new revenue source, using funds from our short-term rental tax as a match. Voting No on Proposition 121 is also important for affordable housing advocates, to keep state income tax rates at their current level, so revenue is available for housing.
Under Trustee Colin Laird’s leadership, the Carbondale Board of Trustees is currently holding extra monthly work sessions to develop the town’s first Community Housing Plan, with clear goals and strategies. Historically, Carbondale has relied on the private sector to build affordable housing through our Inclusionary Housing policy, requiring 20% of units in larger new developments to be deed-restricted based on income. This policy has led to almost 150 affordable units being built at no cost to the town. Our goal is to double that number in the next 10 years, through a range of new strategies and funding sources.
First, we will review our 20% Inclusionary Housing policy to determine if we can increase the requirement for new development. Next, we will identify the best organization to partner with to develop a mixed-use project with around 60 affordable housing units on the Town Center properties that were donated to the town. We will then explore development-neutral strategies including buy-downs, down payment assistance, and trailer-park resident purchases to ensure the long-term affordability of existing housing stock.
The funding landscape is more encouraging than at any time in history. Through annual transfers and conservative spending, the Carbondale Board of Trustees has carefully built up $1 million in our housing fund, which we can use to advance our housing goals. At the state level, almost $400 million in one-time federal funds will soon be available for grants and loans related to affordable housing. If 2A and Prop 123 pass (and Prop 121 fails), we will have ongoing funding to make significant progress on affordable housing.
We can’t solve the housing crisis on our own, so we are actively engaged in the Greater Roaring Fork Regional Housing Coalition’s efforts to establish a regional approach to housing strategies and access to funding. We are grateful to organizations including Carbondale Senior Housing Authority; Catholic Charities; Aspen Pitkin Employee Housing Inc.; the Roaring Fork School District; RFTA; and Habitat, who have worked with the town to expand affordable housing in Carbondale by another 200 units through their own projects within the town of Carbondale.
There’s not a lot we can do to moderate the price of free-market housing, which has skyrocketed across the country in desirable locations like Carbondale in recent years. Our clear and predictable development approval process has helped generate more workforce-oriented housing, and will continue to be an important part of our strategy to meet our community’s housing needs. With your support, we will add more tools to our toolbox and continue to leverage opportunities to provide affordable housing in Carbondale. Our next Housing Work Session is Nov. 29 at 6 p.m. at Town Hall, and I invite you to join us as we refine our plans.