Chart created from data provided by the Town of Buena Vista

Building permit data from the past 5 years in both Buena Vista and Chaffee County indicate strong growth in single family dwelling permits issued. Multi-family dwellings have not shown growth as strong or consistent in town and are not as closely tracked or reported by the county.

Buena Vista’s in-town data shows accelerating growth of single family dwelling development, with 20 permits issued in 2016, 23 in 2017, then jumping to 59 and 64 in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

In 2020, while total numbers in the county dipped, BV grew by 30% over 2019, with 83 permits issued for single family dwellings, according to data obtained through a Colorado Open Records Act request.

These figures include single family attached dwellings, which have been developed primarily at The Farm on the town’s southeast side.

The town tracks multi-family permits, which have not been consistent. None were built in 2016. Collegiate Commons comprised 48 units in 2017. In the 3 years from 2018-2020, a total of 31 multi-family unit permits were issued.

As of Sept. 30, BV’s planning department had issued no permits for apartments in 2021.

Determining the values of buildings being developed in and around Buena Vista is presently an extremely labor-intensive task. The town takes a percentage of the permit fees collected by the county, which are calculated on the projected value of a given structure.

The county makes reports available to the public that provide dollar values and street addresses for permits issued, but no zip code information.

In early September, Chaffee Housing Authority director Becky Gray said the county’s planning department is purchasing new software to more comprehensively track such data.

In a recent report by Brain McCabe in The Mountain Mail, the director of development services for the county, Dan Swallow, predicted single family dwelling development to continue on its growth path.

“There is nothing to indicate that this growth trend will slow unless interest rates rise or more widespread material shortages occur,” he said.

Meanwhile, federal dollars are being allocated to encourage increased affordable housing growth.

“You may have heard about a division of housing program called IHOP – I think it stands for innovative housing programs,” said Gray during a presentation to BV’s board of trustees in late October. “It came out of HB1271 last year and the idea is to incentivize communities to adjust their policies and procedures to make building affordable housing easier.”

House Bill 21-1271 was signed into law in late June. Its exposition notes, “Coloradans have identified housing affordability as the biggest issue facing the state as one in every seven Colorado households is spending more than half its income on housing.”

That data, cited from Shift Research Lab, was compounded by figures from the Colorado housing and finance authority, which reported “nearly half of all Colorado renters are considered cost burdened, with an additional 24 percent being severely cost burdened.”

The bill also notes that Colorado is one of only five states with a gap greater than 60 percent between home price and income growth between 2009 and 2019 and that from 2012 to 2019, the state went from being one of the most to one of the least affordable in the country.

Statewide affordable rental shortages were calculated at nearly 121,000 units.

Chaffee County and Buena Vista’s shortages require more study, said Gray, though she acknowledged they are acute.

The county’s last housing needs assessment was produced in 2016, 2 years before Gray started with the CHA.

“At that time the production goal was 270 houses a year of affordable housing for 10 years starting in 2016 to get caught up to our demand,” she said. “We’re nowhere near meeting those goals.

“This (proposed) needs assessment … is to not only offer that kind of global production goal but to really focus in on each jurisdiction in Chaffee County to say that BV has a need to produce X number of housing units over the next so many years to meet our current need, but also our projected growth,” she said, referring to one of three planks proposed in seeking grants from the state’s innovative housing programs.

The other two were proposed studies on short term rental impacts and the area’s development approval processes.

“There’s this list of actions that municipalities can take and BV’s already done several of them. So we must be ahead of the curve when we look at the whole state to know that we’re doing what we can locally to make housing production easier,” Gray said.

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