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Last Thursday, policymakers gathered in Thonhoff Park in Salida for the signing of an Intergovernmental Agreement officially forming the Chaffee Housing Authority, a new organization that will change the way Chaffee County addresses its lack of affordable housing.

“So many people have worked to reach that point,” said Buena Vista Trustee Libby Fay, who signed the agreement Thursday on behalf of Buena Vista as Mayor Pro Tem.

Fay was also involved in the crafting of the agreement as a member of the Housing Policy Advisory Committee.

The agreement between the governments of Chaffee County, the city of Salida and town of Buena Vista creates a multijurisdictional housing authority that centralizes the resources of that group of governments to address a common problem: Housing prices in the Arkansas Valley are rising beyond what many locals can afford.

“I think (Salida mayor) P.T. Wood put it well at the signing ceremony,” said Read McCulloch, director of the Chaffee Housing Trust. “We’ve been talking about different tools that we’ve been needing to use all together to address the housing issue, and this now gives us a toolbox to put those tools in so that we can be more effective and focused in addressing the problem to the scale that’s required.”

The town of Poncha Springs voted to decline to enter the agreement, but at the signing Thursday, officials expressed optimism that the third municipality in the county would reconsider their decision after seeing what the CHA does in its first years.

“I know some people are opposed to creating another entity, but this one is really important. First of all, just to centralize the discussion, but to work across jurisdictions so we can get some uniformity in the policy that’s implemented,” McCulloch said.

Not only is the door still open for Poncha Springs, but the agreement would allow governments from outside Chaffee County to enter as well.

The CHA as a concept has been in the works since 2016, built from the work of the Housing Policy Advisory Committee.

“The Housing Policy Advisory Committee was a really terrific group. Very effective,” Fay said. “There were builders, there were people from the health department, people from Habitat for Humanity and the Chaffee Housing Trust, trustees from the different communities, sometimes planners, administrators. It was just a real dynamic group of people who were all committed to trying to address the question of affordable housing.”

Fay joined the HPAC as a liaison from the Buena Vista Board of Trustees after she was elected in 2018. Amy Eckstein also joined HPAC after her election to the board earlier this year.

It was by the HPAC’s recommendation that the Office of Housing was created as a department of the county government. That office is led by director Becky Gray, who will now transition into directing CHA.

“Communities that are like ours, that are amenity-rich mountain communities who created housing authorities some time ago have a much greater stock of affordable housing than communities who haven’t,” Gray said. “A publicly-funded entity like a housing authority which focuses on affordability for all people can provide in their community an anchor, if you will, for that community conversation about how to maintain affordability for residents and employees in our county.”

There are a number of ways that housing authorities go about effectuating this goal, Gray said. The most common is the management of deed restrictions.

In the context of affordable housing, deeds are restricted to mandate that the home must be owned by someone making below a certain percentage of the area median income. One of a housing authority’s duties, then, would be to monitor these homes to ensure that these restrictions are being adhered to.

A housing authority may also have policy tools at its disposal, such as inclusionary housing policies in which a certain percentage of homes in a new development must be set aside for a certain income level or incentives like down payment assistance programs, Gray said.

The housing authority could also be an educational source on topics like fair housing laws and tenant rights.

“It can actually own property, it could borrow money, it could have some limited mill levy provisions, it could have a limited amount of sales tax, it can go for grants, it can build and manage different housing facilities,” Fay said. “It is an actual governmental entity now. It can do more things than the HPAC could do.”

There are many things that a housing authority can do, but the specific strategies the Chaffee Housing Authority will use will be up to the CHA’s board of directors.

The CHA’s constituent governments are now seeking applications for members to represent them on the board, and Gray said the board will hopefully be seated by next month.

Under the agreement, the Board of County Commissioners sends three members, Buena Vista and Salida each send 2, and two seats will be elected at large, all with staggered terms.

That format, McCulloch said, creates “a forum and a place where housing issues can be discussed and addressed. Up until now it was just the Housing Policy Advisory Committee meetings where that was done, and that wasn’t a sanctioned body, it was just grassroots folks getting together.”

“It should allow for a more coordinated effort at addressing the workforce housing issues that we have,” Fay said. “Right now we’re in a situation where our housing prices have gone up so much that our actual employees of this area can’t afford to buy a house. Teachers, police officers, firefighters, service workers, all those people are not able to afford to buy a house, and if they can go through some of these avenues, they can actually end up paying less as a home owner rather than just as a renter.”

McCulloch said that the CHA can work in complement with what the Chaffee Housing Trust does because the Housing Trust is a CHODO, a community housing development organization.

“A housing authority cannot be a CHODO, so to access funds to help address the housing issue, we as the CHODO are able to do that and bring that to bear on Chaffee County. The housing authority would complement that by bringing a different legal structure and also bringing a lot more gravitas to the issue because it represents the whole county and each of the municipalities,” McCulloch said. “In the long run, the housing authority can do a lot of things the nonprofit cannot do.”

Nonprofits like CHODOs can seek grants that housing authorities cannot, and vice versa.

In one example, McCullouch said the housing authority would have “much more clout” in land banking arrangements, in which the authority would buy up a large piece of land that could be used for affordable housing, “and then come up with a way to develop that for a larger scale.”

Fay said that the fact that the IGA creating the CHA saw support shows an acknowledgement that affordable housing is an issue bigger than what any one entity can handle.

“We’ll still benefit from things like the Chaffee Housing Trust and Habitat for Humanity, but the Housing Authority will be able to go for more grant money, be able to take on bigger projects. It’ll be available to advise on different low income housing tax credit projects such as Collegiate Commons,” Fay said. “It won’t be just Buena Vista out there by itself trying to put together a complicated arrangement.”

“That was a very significant event,’ McCulloch said of the signing ceremony Thursday. “Two or three years ago we were not even talking about getting to this point, or it was something that was aspirational. To see it fully executed and supported by most of the jurisdictions speaks a lot to how far we’ve come in the discussion of how best to address housing.”

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