The Eagle County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday took a bold step to address the local housing crisis.
Procedurally, the commissioners approved a supplementary budget that transfers $ 5.4 million from the county’s general fund to its housing fund. Operationally, the Commissioners agreed to fund a series of programs – officially called Bold moves – designed to reduce the local housing problem.
âI like that this solution does not try to get out of this crisis,â said Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry. She noted that building the number of new housing units needed would take several years and several million dollars and, in simple terms, the county does not have that kind of money or that amount of time. But local authorities have other tools to help local residents rent or buy places where they can feel at home.
âI think (Bold Housing Moves) is a very apt name,â said Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney. “It’s going to be a tough and tumbling few months.”
The Bold program has nine components, including the addition of another employee from the housing department to help administer the new offers. The Bold plan will be launched immediately and it includes building on current successes such as county down payment assistance and share buyback programs.
The plan will provide an additional $ 400,000 for down payment assistance and adjust parameters. Down payment assistance will be available up to 5% of total loans up to a maximum of $ 625,000. Eagle County Housing Director Kim Bell Williams noted that the existing down payment program is a well-known and well-used tool for county residents trying to buy a home.
The buy-down program provides cash upfront to buyers in exchange for adding a price cap or restrictions on resident occupancy deeds to the property they buy. The new program parameters increase the maximum purchase price of a unit to $ 850,000 and the maximum purchase amount to $ 125,000. A total of $ 2 million has been allocated to expand the program and it will be launched in August.
But the bold moves aren’t limited to current options. There is also funding for brand new ideas.
Accessory units and cash offers
Two of the main components of the current housing crisis are scarcity and demand. Two of the new Bold programs target these issues.
The first aims to encourage current owners to maximize the use of their property by providing funds for the construction of secondary suites, commonly known as mother-in-law’s apartments.
The proposal notes that it can be relatively easy to increase the number of rental units available by providing low-interest or interest-free loans to current owners to finance the construction of secondary suites. For example, the money could pay for the installation of a secondary kitchen or a new exterior entrance. In return for the loan, the owner would agree to rent the newly created unit to an eligible local household.
âThe loans work,â Williams said, noting that the ancillary unit program repayment option could be structured similar to current down payment loans. These debts are repaid over a longer period and fully repaid at the time of resale.
Commissioners noted that one downside to this proposal is that some local homeowners associations ban accessory units.
âDo you think some of these restrictions can be lifted, that homeowners’ associations might say they’re going to change their mind about it? Chandler-Henry asked.
Williams noted that the program will require due diligence – on the part of the county and loan seekers – before construction funding is approved. The county has allocated $ 150,000 to the program in 2021 and the proposed launch date is October.
Another new effort targets the issue of local housing demand. Williams noted that many local residents who are qualified to participate in down payment or redemption assistance programs are overwhelmed by all the cash offers on the open market.
Through this program, the county would serve as an all-cash interim buyer. The eligible household would then purchase the county unit and deed restrictions would be attached to the property.
This proposition works for both buyers and sellers, Williams said. âWe have had a number of local people who want to sell in this program,â she said.
âI think community members can be excited about this program. It takes a lot of stress away from them when selling a home, âsaid Chandler-Henry.
The county has allocated $ 2.5 million to the cash offerings assistance program for 2021 and wants to launch the program in September.
The county’s focus on housing is not limited to properties for sale. Rental unit efforts include providing loans to help tenants cover first and last month payments and to respond to the short-term rental market.
Williams noted that many people who previously rented homes to long-term tenants have switched to short-term rentals – sites such as Airbnb or VRBO. The county would like to put some of these units back into the long-term rental pool.
âOur program would provide property maintenance and other services to entice people,â she said. The county has allocated $ 150,000 for this work, which is proposed for launch in September.
Homelessness Stability Allowance
This part of the Housing Department’s Bold plan spends federal dollars instead of county funding. The federal grant is part of the CARES Act’s efforts to provide outreach services, temporary emergency shelters, and quick housing. The grant amounts to $ 637,650.
âThis is the first time that we have received funding for this type of work,â said Williams.
Williams said the county has partnered with local entities to start work for the homeless – groups such as the Salvation Army, the American Red Cross and Catholic charities – who are working to help the homeless. residents struggling to find shelter. Williams said local entities have already identified 60 people who regularly need their services.
âJust because we can’t see people on the streets doesn’t mean people aren’t experiencing homelessness,â Chandler-Henry noted.
The Homeless Stability Grant program will be launched in August. âThe money is there, so we are looking for partners to spend it,â said Williams. “Our contracts should be signed within a week or two.”
“The big missing piece”
While, as stated, the county cannot come out of the housing crisis, the creation of new units is an obvious need.
âThe big missing piece is working with the development community to provide more units,â noted Jill Klosterman, Eagle County finance director. âWe get phone calls from developers all the time, but we don’t think there are any projects ready to be budgeted for today. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be any in the future.
Due to this uncertainty, the Bold 2021 plan does not include money for new construction. âHe’s missing because we’re not ready today,â Klosterman said.
But the remaining $ 5.4 million is set to be released in the coming weeks.
âIt’s exciting,â Chandler-Henry said. “It almost makes you want to go out and brag that we are doing something about the housing crisis.”
To learn more about the county’s new and existing programs, visit TheValleyHomeStore.org.