The Lake Hill Administrative Site Affordable Housing Act is on its way to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature.
Late Wednesday, July 9, the bill to convey 40 acres of U.S. Forest Service land in the White River National Forest to Summit County for affordable workforce housing passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate by a voice vote. Once the bill is signed by the president, local officials can begin working with the Forest Service to purchase the land.
“It’s amazing. I couldn’t be more excited,” said Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs. “We’ve been working on this for something like three to five years and now we’re just one step away from the president signing the act.”
Gibbs has been a strong advocate for the bill’s passage since it was introduced in June 2013 by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, in the House of Representatives. In November 2013, Gibbs traveled to Washington, D.C., joining Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, for a hearing about companion legislation carried by Udall and Sen. Michael Bennet, also a Colorado Democrat, before the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining.
After so much time and effort, Gibbs said, the only thing that would have made the bill’s passage sweeter was if it had been passed a couple of days ago when Obama was visiting Denver.
“It would have been really difficult to pull off, but how cool would it have been if we got the president to come sign the bill here?” he said.
Despite narrowly missing that opportunity, Gibbs said he is hopeful the bill will make it to Obama’s desk in the next month or two. Gibbs said the next step will be to conduct a property analysis to determine the land’s fair market value.
After the county buys the land, officials can begin working with engineering consultants to determine the project’s design, including the number of units and whether they should be rentals or for-sale housing.
“We do not know the design yet or how many units we’ll be able to construct,” Gibbs said. “We didn’t want to put the cart before the horse, given the unpredictability of passing even non-controversial bills through Congress.”
Why has it taken so long to move a bill of no interest to anyone outside of Summit County through Congress?
Mike Saccone, communications director for Udall, had a two-word answer: “It’s Congress.”
Although there are avenues to rush bills to the floors of the House and Senate, Saccone said it’s not uncommon for non-controversial bills like the Lake Hill Act to move through the committee process in an effort to garner unanimous support. If even one lawmaker dissents, the bill could be stalled for months or even killed before it ever comes to the floor for a vote.
“Lawmakers carrying bill need to build support, develop coalitions and convince other members of Congress who may not be familiar with the area that this is good for government and good for the community,” Saccone said. “That’s one of the reasons why you move these types of bills through the committee process, rather than trying to rush it to the floor.”
Despite taking the long road, Gibbs said the Lake Hill Act is going to change the housing landscape in Summit County.
“We have so many people, police officers, firefighters, EMTs, ski patrollers and a host of others who work hard to make this community great but can’t afford to live here,” he said. “We want these great people to continue to invest in the community, not just because they work here, but also because they live here.”
In addition to legalizing a future land deal between Summit County and the Forest Service, the Lake Hill Act also provides funding for the Dillon Ranger District to construct a new facility.
The Lake Hill site is located between Interstate 70 and Dillon Dam Road and between the towns of Dillon and Frisco.
In a related development, Polis announced Thursday, July 10, the House’s passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act by an overwhelming margin of 405 to 6.
The bill also is on its way to the White House for the president’s signature.
The workforce bill aims to reduce the wage gap between men and women, provides funding for education and literacy programs for adults and immigrants and modernizes the country’s education and workforce development systems, according to a news release from Polis’ office.