EDITORIAL: Pagosa’s Housing Crisis, According to the Experts, Part Five

Read Part One

Awards are being made to sponsors of 12 developments, which will support the new construction or preservation of 633 affordable rental housing units in Colorado…

— From the September 15, 2017 announcement posted by the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority

The second half of the $35,000 Archuleta County Housing Needs Study — still under revision by Denver-based Economic and Planning Systems (EPS) — focuses on “Implementation Recommendations.” (You can download the current draft, here.) We know that housing is a challenge for many people in Archuleta County. How should we address the problems?

The EPS recommendations are summarized this way in the current draft:

  • Designate an organizational structure to manage the region’s housing strategies;
  • Create and/or allocate local resources, financial and other, to support housing efforts;
  • Utilizing the new organizational structure and local resources, pursue a new affordable housing development.

The EPS experts mentioned only one “organizational structure” as being suitable to “manage the region’s housing strategies.” The organization they suggested was the Archuleta County Housing Authority. This may strike some of our readers as an odd recommendation. According to the County Assessor records, the Archuleta County Housing Authority has managed the 16-unit Casa de Los Arcos senior housing complex on South 8th Street since 1981. The operation has had its management and organizational challenges during those 36 years, but from the reports I hear, the Housing Authority is lately doing a commendable job in managing this solitary housing complex.

During those same 36 years, the organization has shown no interest in expanding its operations nor in constructing additional housing.

Under its current leadership, however, the Authority has been working on a plan to add eight more units of senior housing on their existing property and has expressed an interest in developing more housing on a separate property.

Is that a good move? To build more senior housing?

The most recent draft of the Housing Needs Study includes many colorful graphs and charts, but it unfortunately tells us almost nothing about the types of housing we need most desperately in 2017. Senior housing? Housing for young families? Housing for homeless people? Housing for underpaid workers? Housing for single mothers?

We are given no clue as to how many people in Archuleta County are currently living (illegally) in cars or RVs. We are shown an estimate that 49 percent of our renter households are “cost-burdened” — including, perhaps, both very-low-income couples living on Social Security, and middle-class professionals working at the Pagosa Springs Medical Center.

We are left to guess at the exact details.

The 8-unit expansion currently proposed by the Archuleta County Housing Authority, to serve seniors who have obtained federally-subsidized housing vouchers, does not appear in the EPS housing report. The only “project” specifically recommended by EPS in their 87-page report is a ‘Low Income Housing Tax Credit’ (LIHTC) apartment building — under the assumption that the community could get Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) approval for such a project. One such LIHTC project — the 36-unit ‘Lumien II’ apartment project — was approved for Durango last month; Cortez won approval for its 50-unit ‘ Valley Sun Village’ project in the same round of awards.

From Durango’s ‘Lumien Apartments’ website.

The total number of low-income apartment units approved by CHFA in September: 633. Cost to taxpayers: $12.7 million.

According to my pocket calculator, that averages out to a federal subsidy of about $20,000 per apartment unit. The units are required to serve individuals who live on less than 60 percent of the ‘Area Median Income’ — for a duration of 30 years; after that, the HUD limits are lifted and the apartments can charge market rents.

According to a report published by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) last year, Colorado has about 275,000 “severely cost-burdened” households — households that pay in excess of 50% of their income for housing. If CHFA is able to fund 633 new units each year, it will take only 434 years to meet the housing needs of those particular households, using the LIHTC program.

But here we are talking about the state as a whole. How about our local situation?

EPS, in their $35,000 report, was not able (or did not make the effort necessary) to find out how many households in Archuleta County are “severely cost-burdened” or living illegally in unsanitary conditions. The report is based mainly on easily-obtained statistics rather than a ‘boots on the ground’ survey of actual conditions. Nevertheless, our community leaders now have a report that could be used with an application to CHFA, for a future LIHTC project. Typically, the cost to assemble a LIHTC application runs about $80,000, we are told, and typically, the application is turned down and must be re-submitted multiple times before getting CHFA approval. Folks who know about this stuff tell us that getting a LIHTC apartment built in Archuleta County would probably take at least three or four years.

I hardly think we want our workforce living illegally in vehicles for the next four years?

Maybe we could, instead, lock them up in a fancy new $27 million jail?

After spending the past 18 months on the Archuleta County Affordable Housing Task Force studying the housing problem, I’ve come to believe workable solutions are available, that could be implemented in less than four years. If we want Archuleta County to continue to have a viable economy — to continue to be attractive to the non-retired working class who keep the economic wheels turning — we might want to consider those alternative solutions.

But the solutions will not look like the Lumien apartments in Durango… In fact, they might look more like Pagosa Springs looked in 1891, when families built their own homes from local materials…

Read Part Six…

Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.