Unsold units would be idea for affordable housing solution | SummitDaily.com

Unsold units would be idea for affordable housing solution

The Summit Housing Authority needs a reliable funding source large enough to make a difference. The current funding from our local governments and state and federal programs does not suffice.

Solving the problem with an additional sales tax, however, is inappropriate for two reasons: The proposed .05 percent sales tax would generate only $400,000 in a year – far too little to realize an effect – and would place the burden of supporting affordable housing projects largely on the people most in need of them.

There are three reasons housing prices now escape the reach of the individuals and families Summit County must oblige to foster social and economic vitality – second-homeowners who have the means to buy property and homes at any price; a real estate industry that is happy to accommodate affluent homebuyers and see the market skew itself in their favor; and a development contingent unwilling to be held accountable for its contribution to the phenomenon.

This is all true because of free-market principles, and the right to make a dollar must never be approbated.

Neither property taxes, impact fees nor development incentives are the answer. Taxpayers already are burdened and have been very generous in supporting the school system, fire districts and other important community needs.

Impact fees would not be as financially successful as a sales tax addition – although they might be useful in slowing down the pace of development – and one only need ask the town of Frisco how successful incentives are in attracting developers.

What might be more successful is a re-education of the community on homebuilding techniques, specifically how natural homebuilding is a more ecological, economical alternative than what now passes for a “mountain home.”

For example, where frame and drywall construction somehow costs buyers as much as between $125-$175 a square foot, straw bale homes cost $30-$40 a square foot and are more energy efficient.

Reducing the affordable housing challenge to land acquisition, teaching people to build their own homes – and thus creating a greater personal investment in community – and mitigating a wasteful industry that artificially drives up home prices would be more successful than any sales tax. And it would give those who might pay for it exactly what they want for their dollar.

Or, instead of building more, let’s look at redevelopment strategies.

Keystone Real Estate Development (KRED), the Vail Resorts and Intrawest partnership, may disagree with me, but it’s overbuilt and is continuing to do so.

About 190 units are listed for sale in Keystone’s River Run Village – about two-fifths of the neighborhood. In addition, KRED is letting some retail tenants in the village stay free of rent – at least until the season starts – because it doesn’t want vacant commercial space, and the rents were killing businesses. Just look at how many came and went.

The point of all this is that development got approved without any requirement of affordable housing. These companies are the lifeblood of Summit County, and they’ve seen brighter days, as the recent dismissal of Vail Resorts President Andy Daly and transfer of Keystone Chief Operations Officer John Rutter indicate.

But the companies could do even more for this community if for instance, KRED and Vail Resorts took it on the chin to buy 25 or 30 of those River Run units at market price from the owners, turned them into deed-restricted affordable housing and created a permanent population base that not only will stimulate business and life in that village, but also set a precedent for serious action on the housing problem and corporate accountability.

Here’s a third idea: Any large university can tell you about the success of their honors dorms and cooperative housing. The concept is simple: A group of committed people live together in decent digs by the grace of the institution, with caveats of performance and service attached.

It would work a lot like resort housing does now, only it would create ownership and community investment. If market prices dip at all in Summit County, this could be a viable option.

It would require, however, strong leaders at the grassroots level to organize groups willing to live together and the guidance of a housing authority with some ability to enforce program requirements.

Call me crazy, but I just don’t see how increasing the price of my already overpriced $6 burger is going to get me a deed-restricted mortgage.

Reid Williams is a staff writer for the Summit Daily News and, for the moment, happy to pay $300 a month for his 350-square-foot bedroom and not be on a lease.

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