Commissioners define ‘affordable’ housing

Affordable housing: Long a nebulous buzzword among developers and local elected officials, the county took steps Tuesday to define the term, thus creating a common syntax all players can use as they work to address the housing needs of the Pagosa area population.

Specifically, the board approved two definitions: one for affordable workforce housing, and another for attainable workforce housing, and the move meshes with an action plan outlined in a housing needs assessment study prepared for the town and county by the Denver firm Economic and Planning Systems.

The report was issued in December 2007.

According to the commissioner resolution, affordable workforce housing is defined as housing affordable to households earning 30 to 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI). Attainable workforce housing is defined as housing affordable to those earning from 60 to 120 percent of AMI.

For 2008, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defined Archuleta County’s AMI as $53,800.

Archuleta County Director of Community Development Rick Bellis said, “The intent is to create a common legal and technical understanding of what is trying to be achieved so that all entities can be unified in moving forward toward attaining the common goal of providing sufficient and affordable housing for the workforce of the community.

“These definitions and our mutual inter-jurisdictional understanding of them is a critical element toward negotiating developer agreements, land and monetary contributions, working effectively with non-profit and private developers, making effective land use and zoning decisions about infill and future growth and entering into contracts with our housing partners, funding sources and financial underwriters.”

Archuleta County Commissioner Ronnie Zaday applauded Bellis’ efforts and said, just prior to a unanimous board vote, “It’s nice to know we will all be speaking the same language for a change.”

But, according to town documents, and despite commissioner adoption, the town and county are still speaking different affordable housing dialects.

For example, the town adopted its own definition of “affordable housing” in 2004 using terms and formulas consistent with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The definition is memorialized in town resolution 2004-04, and the council recommitted to the resolution in 2007

Although there is overlap between the town and county definitions, the verbiage between the two is slightly different and it will require further wordsmithing for the two to sync. Specifically, the town’s definition omits the use of the word “workforce,” while parameters for percentages of Area Median Income (a number used to calculate levels of affordability) are slightly different between the two organizations.

Interim Town Manager Tamra Allen said she’s looking forward to working with Bellis and the county as he brings the county’s definition to town staff and the town council for their review.

“We look forward to working with the county to solidify these definitions based on the definition that was adopted by the BoCC (board of county commissioners) Tuesday and the previous resolution adopted by the town,” Allen said.

Colorado Housing Inc. Executive Director Julie Simmons said although there are differences between the two definitions, the board’s Tuesday adoption demonstrates a willingness to deal with one of the community’s most pressing issues.

“The county is opening its eyes on the role affordable housing plays in community development. It’s (adopting the definition) a first step toward land use polices that benefit affordable and work force housing,” Simmons said.