EDITORIAL: How Bad It COULD Be, Part Four

Read Part One

Let it be, let it be… there will be an answer: Let It Be.

— Lennon/McCartney

A couple of months ago, the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners voted 2-to-1 to make the community an offer. If the voters would simply approve a $26.6 million tax increase, the BOCC would promise to spend the money building a 34,000-square-foot facility to house 35 law enforcement officers and maybe two dozen jail inmates. (With many more inmates promised in the future.)

You can’t always judge a building by its square footage, but this particular building would have provided about 567 square feet per person, at a cost to the taxpayers of about $782 per square foot.

I’ve heard that the fancier new homes in Archuleta County typically cost around $200 per square foot. And I happen to know, from personal experience, that a family of five can live fairly comfortably, year round, in an 800-square-foot house. (That’s 160 square feet per person.)

Housing for jail inmates is obviously a pricey endeavor, when you allow your government to make the plans. Nevertheless, nearly half of the voters who submitted ballots in the November 7 election (48 percent) found the BOCC’s offer attractive. Slightly more than half (52 percent) didn’t like the offer, for whatever reasons.

How about housing for ordinary, non-criminals?

According to the draft housing report submitted this past September by Denver-based Economic & Planning Systems (EPS) — the 2017 Archuleta County Housing Needs Study:

Thirty-six percent of households in Archuleta County are “cost burdened” with housing, spending more than 30 percent of household income on housing costs. This burden is greater on renter households, with 49 percent of all renter households cost burdened, compared to 30 percent of all owner households.

If those numbers are accurate, then we have around 4,600 people in Archuleta County struggling with housing issues.

But the offer made to us during the November election, by the BOCC, asked us to increase our taxes by $26.6 million to service fewer than 60 people. (Okay, yes… more promised in the future.)

We will all concede, of course, that Colorado state law requires each county government to provide law enforcement services, and also requires every county to maintain a jail. We will not argue about that. It’s the law. And we will concede that no Colorado law requires a county to provide safe, affordable housing for anyone — except perhaps for an orphan or other child in serious need?

But we can plainly see where our County government’s priorities lay in 2017. $26.6 million proposed for Sheriff’s facilities, on top of over $100,000 already spent on architectural plans.

$17,000 spent on a housing needs study. (The Pagosa Springs Town Council kicked in a matching amount for the study.)

Earlier this week, down at the end of Hot Springs Boulevard, the Town Council was also showing off their priorities, when they voted to spend $400,000 for four vacant parcels located  in the flood plain at the end of Hermosa Street… so that tourists might one day be able to walk on a paved trail from Town Park to River Center Park. (Many more hundreds of thousands of dollars will be needed to complete that project.) The vote was not unanimous, but you get the general idea. Our governments here in Pagosa have not — thus far — prioritized affordable housing with their pocketbooks, nor with their tax increase proposals. Maybe that will change in the future. Maybe not.

But there’s a very affordable way for our local governments to help provide for “Housing Choices” in 2018, without spending a lot of taxpayer revenues.

Simply stated: Let It Be. Get the hell out of the way.

I’ve written many times about the downtown house I live in, built in 1900 by a Civil War veteran. The house was constructed without any insulation, without any plumbing, without any electrical wiring, without any sheetrock, using locally available materials — mainly, rough-cut pine boards. No town or county government would allow this house to be built in 2017, because it would be deemed ‘unsafe.’ Nor is it likely that any contractor or owner/builder would choose to use rough-cut pine boards, overhung with hand-printed wallpaper, for interior walls… or build a house without indoor plumbing, insulation or electrical wiring.

The house has been ‘unsafe’ for 117 years, and has been an friendly, accommodating home to a dozen generations. What can I say; I love my house.

Here’s a photo I came across on a Woodland Park website, while working on a report for our local housing task force:

And here’s the text that appears below the photo:

Peak View Park is the authorized dealer for Athens Park Homes for the western U.S.

Specializing in exceptional quality, finish, and design, Athens homes can be built to your specifications as a cabin or tiny house on your property or to be placed on one of our fantastic view or forested long-term spaces. Local financing available W.A.C.

Call 719-491-4025 or 719-502-7431 to schedule an appointment to tour a model home. (For a list of Standard Features from Athens Park Homes, click here.)

The 399-square foot house shown above is illegal, as a long-term dwelling, in most Colorado cities and towns, and in many Colorado counties. It is illegal, for example, in Archuleta County if it’s constructed on a trailer.  It’s illegal in the Town of Pagosa Springs if it’s smaller than 400 square feet and placed on a foundation.

Can anyone give me a good reason why this house should be illegal? I really want to know, because — at $56,000 — it’s priced lower than the cheapest second-hand mobile home available through the Pagosa Springs Multiple Listing Service this week.

We should consider that a homeowner with carpentry skills might be able to build this house themselves, for considerably less than $56,000. A high school “building trades” class might also be able to build this for less than $56,000.

But for the moment, you are not allowed to live in it, in Archuleta County. You are allowed only to be cost-burdened, along with 4,600 other local residents.

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.