Times reader Gary Goms observed in late September letter to the editor a very high ratio of help wanted to real estate for rent ads as one indicator of Buena Vista’s housing crisis.

While the town’s planning and zoning department works to develop incentives for developers to build high-density rental units, other local organizations are hard at work helping people pursuing home ownership in the area.

The Chaffee Housing Trust and Chaffee County Habitat for Humanity both offer programs designed to provide affordable and sustainable homeownership to qualifying residents.

The two organizations work together, targeting residents of different income levels.

“We maintain open communication, supporting each others’ efforts. Habitat can serve a lower AMI than the CHT, so our impact is complimentary, filling the need as best we each can,” said Read McCulloch, executive director of the CHT.

“Together we are able to serve a wider AMI range of potential homeowners. CCHFH also provides CHT contact information to all applicants who exceed our AMI limits, providing them with another possible avenue to homeownership,” said Jill Nall, Chaffee Habitat executive director.

The average household income served by Habitat is roughly 43 percent of area median income, while CHT’s average is 68 percent.

Area median income in Chaffee County is $51,500 for a single person, $58,800 for a two-person, $66,200 for a three-person and $73,500 for a four-person household, according to 2021 data from the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority.

McCulloch reported having assisted five households with financing in BV. Nall said CCHFH has built 13 homes in the area.

McCulloch and Nall both said their organizations are working at full capacity without being, even together, the full solution to BV and Chaffee County’s housing crisis.

“This crisis is something that needed to be addressed years ago. It has now put all of us in a reactive mode rather than proactive and we as a community are struggling,” said Nall. “We need all arms of government, the Housing Authority, the community and organizations like CHT and CCHFH working together to address the issues and put forth real solutions.”

“Ultimately, funding will determine our success, or lack thereof,” said McCulloch.

Nall concurred, adding that lack of affordable land is her organization’s greatest challenge at present.

“It will require dedicated funds and land to begin to resolve the lack of affordable housing in the area,” she said.

Buena Vista’s new planning and zoning director Joseph Teipel recently issued requests for proposals on a number of initiatives toward generating affordable housing in the area.

One is a land transfer to develop more apartments at Carbonate Street. Another is an audit of the town’s Unified Development Code and internal development review processes.

“We also are bringing four code changes to the board of trustees in January that will incentivize the construction of affordable and medium-density housing,” said Teipel.

“Regarding initiatives to incentivize affordable housing, each community is approaching this through their own land use codes and processes,” said Chaffee Housing Authority executive director Becky Gray. “For example, Salida has an inclusionary policy, BV allowed for home construction on a single old town lot, the county allows ADUs.”

Gray agreed that an all hands on deck approach is needed to address the housing crisis in Buena Vista and Chaffee County.

“Our housing needs are so substantial that policy and processes are merely one approach that we need to be taking to address the issue,” she said. “Happily, the Chaffee Housing Authority member jurisdictions are working in concert with the CHA board to take other approaches, including public private partnerships and incremental development.”

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