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Taking a regional approach to housing crisis

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It was a snowy morning in Aspen on March 22. Drivers parked single file along the street, many going to the same place. Someone muttered, “Funny place for a housing summit.”

I couldn’t help but agree, having just made the drive to Aspen from Glenwood Springs and sitting stagnant in traffic for 45 minutes between the Airport Business Center and Maroon Creek Bridge. It was not lost on this reporter that many travel more than twice that distance on a daily basis to and from work.

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The organizers of the summit were fully aware of the irony. In fact, as part of her opening remarks, Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork Valley President Gail Schwartz made note of it.

A key phrase during the summit was “taking a regional approach.” At one point, Schwartz asked the crowd if anyone remembered having to dial long distance when making a call from Aspen to Basalt, noting that issues at the time were often addressed hyper-locally. In contrast, she stressed that tackling the housing crisis must be a regional effort.

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The summit lasted through the day, and most speakers noted there was plenty more to be said once they concluded. There were five sessions, including a presentation during lunch by Cheri Witt-Brown, executive director of Greeley-Weld Habitat for Humanity, about Hope Springs — Colorado’s largest Habitat for Humanity project to date. The other four sessions included: 1) Framing the Housing Crisis, 2) Defining the Housing Need and Challenges, 3) Scalable Solutions Speaker Series and 4) Activating Our Region. 

Framing the Housing Crisis

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The 2018 Greater Roaring Fork Regional Housing Study, brought up during the first session, indicated that, at the time, there was a shortfall of 4,000 housing units in the region. Furthermore, that number was projected to grow to 6,827 by 2027. “This is actually what started us down the path of creating the West Mountain Regional Housing Coalition [WMRHC],” said Hannah Klausman, director of economic and community development for Glenwood Springs.

To gauge the effects of the pandemic on the housing crisis, the West Mountain Regional Housing Needs Supplement report was completed in 2022. A follow-up study indicated that the average sale price of a home increased by 42-71%, the average rent increased 40%, non-local buyers increased by 80% and mortgage interest rates increased by 100%. Meanwhile, average wages increased only by 15-35%.

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“We were calling it a housing crisis when we did the first study,” said Klausman. “We’re still there, and it’s an even bigger housing crisis with those numbers.” Then, she added the ringer, “The number that I showed you of the shortfall expected for 2027, we’ve likely surpassed that.”

Klausman’s fellow panelist, Matthew Gillen, executive director of Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA), said that of the 18 homes APCHA had up for sale last year at categories three and four, there were 900 bids. “If you do 900 divided by 18, that is 50 bids per unit,” Gillen laid out. “So, that is 50 different households trying to get that unit … which I think really shows the demand for affordable housing in Pitkin County. (can i buy ambien in canada) ”

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Panelist Jeff Tripp, economic development coordinator for Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, chimed in with some additional statistics. He noted that the unemployment rate in Garfield County is around 3%, “which is not significantly bad,” he stated. “The issue is that 40% are commuting outside of the county for work.” He acknowledged it’s not just Garfield County residents making the daily trip, but residents from as far as Grand Junction.

Klausman added to Tripp’s point that Aspen certainly imports workers, but so does Glenwood Springs. She shared a story when the City of Glenwood Springs’ snow plow drivers were unable to clear the city’s roads due to issues on I-70. “Because they lived so far away, they weren’t able to get to their job to do that very critical service of clearing the roads,” she said. 

Activating Our Region

The summit concluded with a session called Activating Our Region. David Myler and Heather Henry, representing WMRHC, spelled out the mission of the organization and its vision for a regional approach.

WMRHC is a nonprofit made up of regional partners, including the Valley’s five municipalities as well as Pitkin and Eagle counties. Garfield County has yet to join, and Myler suspects it’s because the county is taking a “wait-and-see approach.”

The nonprofit received a $50,000 grant from the state’s Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) for strategic planning. The group later received a $100,000 grant from DOLA’s Innovative Housing Planning Grant Program which will be used to conduct a detailed inventory of housing and resources that are already in place.

WMRHC plans to launch three programs: a buy-down program, a rental assistance program and an accessory dwelling unit fund for current homeowners interested in creating long-term rentals.

When the summit concluded, attendees were asked to put their name tag in one of three baskets labeled with a sub-working group they’d be interested in participating with: public/private partnerships, regional government policy or philanthropic engagement/grant funding.

“We are a region, from Aspen to Battlement Mesa,” Myler stated. “There are obvious economic differences and there are certainly political differences; but, we’re all connected by a very mobile workforce and we’ve got to figure out how to house that workforce as best we can.”

Tags: #Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority #Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado #David Myler #Gayle Schwartz #Habitat for Humanity #Hannah Klausman #Heather Henry #housing #Jeff Tripp #Matthew Gillen
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