EDITORIAL: How Bad It COULD Be, Part Three

Read Part One

There’s really no place like Pagosa Springs. Which is the reason many of us have chosen to live here. (It’s also the reason many have chosen not to live here.)

But there are places that struggle with the same basic problems we struggle with. Like, say, affordable housing…

The City of Gunnison, for example, sits in a wide valley, with a river running through, and surrounded by a recreational wonderland of mountains — much like Pagosa Springs. Like our San Juan River, the Gunnison River is one of the major tributaries of the great Colorado River, and like the San Juan, is fed mainly by pristine winter snowfall… and flows along happily until it runs into the Blue Mesa Reservoir some miles downstream of the city. (The San Juan River, by comparison, empties into Navajo Reservoir.)

The Gunnison River. Photo by Bob Wick, BLM.

The population of the Gunnison Valley, as we mentioned in Part One, is around 16,000, and a fair portion of that population is paying more than 30 percent of its household income on housing — which defines those households as “cost-burdened” under U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines. A large portion of the families that qualify as “cost-burdened” are renters.

Yesterday, we looked at this chart from the 2016 Gunnison Valley Housing Needs Assessment, researched and written under the leadership of Montrose, CO-based consultant Melanie Rees:

This is only one small piece of information included in the 139-page report on the Gunnison Valley’s housing situation. But I found it interesting, for one particular reason. We’ll get to that reason in a moment.

There are similarities between Pagosa Springs and Gunnison, but one difference may be worthy of note, considering the subject at hand. Gunnison County began working hand-in-hand with its local municipalities — to address housing — back in 1998.  And in 2012, the local governments solidified their agreement by forming the Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority.

From the Authority’s 2017 Strategic Plan:

The Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority’s MISSION is to advocate, promote, plan and provide the long-term supply of desirable and affordable housing in Gunnison County to maintain a well-rounded community.

The organization has a paid staff of three, and is supported financially by annual contributions from four local governments: Gunnison County, the City of Gunnison, the Town of Crested Butte, and the Town of Mt. Crested Butte. You can visit the Authority’s informative website here.

By comparison… we have a Housing Authority here in Pagosa Springs… the Archuleta County Housing Authority… but it’s not actually a “housing authority” in the normal sense of the term; it’s not supported financially by annual allocations from our local governments, it has no ‘strategic plan’ for addressing the community’s housing problems, and try as you might, you will not find any information about the organization on the Internet. (Except maybe in recent Daily Post articles.) Its mission is very simple: to operate the 16-unit Casa de los Arcos senior housing complex.

Our local governments here in Archuleta County could have begun cooperating on the affordable housing issue back in 1998 — as Gunnison County did — when we first began to realize the rocky social terrain we were headed into. We could have formed a real Housing Authority, at any point in the past two decades. Those things didn’t happen. So we are still, in a sense, standing on Square One.

Here’s another quote from the GVRHA Strategic Plan:

Strategic Result #1: Development Environment
The GVRHA and its member partners will work continually to create a development environment that encourages the construction of additional free market workforce housing units, as defined by the 2016 Gunnison Valley Housing Needs Assessment, by December 31, 2020, while maintaining the character of the built environment unique to each jurisdiction.

Strategic Result #2: Collaboration
85% of the 400 additional permanently affordable housing units that the GVRHA will participate in creating by December 31, 2020 will be built through public/private collaboration.

I’m no expert in affordable housing, but this strikes me as a rather ambitious goal, for a county like Gunnison with about 9,460 existing housing units… to increase the community’s housing stock by 4 percent within three years, and all of it “permanently affordable…”

And all the while, “maintaining the character of the built environment unique to each jurisdiction”?  I dunno. That sounds slightly impossible.

One thing I noticed about the GVRHA website. If you do a search for “tiny homes,” you get zero results. Again, I’m no housing expert, but it seems to me that the survey in the Gunnison Valley Housing Needs Assessment suggests that “Tiny houses” are the “first choice” for nearly 10 percent of the people in Gunnison County who are planning to move.

Even more importantly, perhaps, “Tiny houses” are one of the top three choices for a full 36 percent of those folks. That’s nearly 4 out of 10 families. Seems to me, that maybe up to 140 of the 400 homes the GVRHA plans to help provide, between now and December 2020, could easily be “Tiny houses.”

And here’s the weird part about that proposal. It’s very likely that those 140 “Tiny houses” have already been built and are hidden in the woods, somewhere in Colorado. They just need to be “allowed.”

Only a few governments in Colorado currently allow “tiny homes” as a housing option — in spite of their popularity among certain sectors of the population. And we understand why. In the minds of many people — and more importantly, in the minds of many government professionals working in Planning Departments around the state — ‘tiny homes’ do not fit into a planned future that “maintains the character of the built environment unique to each jurisdiction.”

In the minds of many, “the character of the built environment” does not allow for small, hand-built, portable dwelling units that the working class can actually afford.

Read Part Four…

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.