Eagle County leaders show support for statewide affordable housing ballot measure

From the Vail Daily

Proposition 123 will ask voters to set aside a portion of state income taxes for affordable housing projects, grants, initiatives and more

EDWARDS — On Tuesday, members of the Eagle County community gathered in support of a statewide affordable housing measure — Proposition 123 — that will be on November’s ballot.

Standing near the future site of an Eagle County School District employee housing project in Edwards, local leaders spoke or stood in support of the measure and the benefits it could bring to the state and to Eagle County.  The group included representatives of Eagle County School District, Vail Health, Eagle County government, Habitat for Humanity, the Education Foundation of Eagle County, Vail Valley Partnership as well as Vail native Mike Johnston, a former state senator and campaign backer.

“For communities to thrive, you must have affordable housing,” said Will Cook, the CEO of Vail Health. “When we all lean in — and we look to the federal government and the state government and the local municipal governments and other nonprofit organizations, for-profit organizations — and pool precious resources, there’s nothing we can’t do. But the problem here is so significant, we need something like Proposition 123 to bring in much-needed resources, without raising taxes.”

Proposition 123 is an affordable housing proposal that dedicates a portion of state income tax revenue to affordable housing programs across the state. Specifically, it would set aside up to 0.1% of taxable income each year, which, according to the Colorado blue book, is estimated to be $145 million in the state budget year 2022-23 and $290 million in the budget year 2023-24 and beyond.

Rather than add additional taxes, the measure proposes to take TABOR refund money to bring in the funding for affordable housing in the state.

Proposition 123 would provide a “stable and permanent and reliable funding source to solve” the affordable housing challenge, added Johnston, who also currently serves as the president and CEO of Denver-based community foundation Gary Ventures.

The measure specifically defines that the dedicated funds could be used for the following purposes:

  • Grants and loans to local governments, and nonprofits to acquire and preserve land for affordable housing development
  • Assistance for the development of affordable, multi-family rental housing
  • Equity investments in affordable housing projects, including specifically a program to share home equity with tenants
  • Homeownership programs and down-payment assistance for first-time homebuyers
  • A program to address homelessness through rental assistance and eviction defense
  • Grants to increase the capacity of local government planning departments.

The district’s 37-employee housing project, just next to Tuesday’s event, serves as an example of the type of developments this measure could bring, Johnston said.

“When passed, Prop 123 can help Eagle County fund more affordable housing developments like this as well as down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers and other efforts to lower rent for residents,” he added.

Specifically, Johnston, in an interview with the Vail Daily prior to Tuesday’s event, said that, if passed, Proposition 123 would seek to bring changes in mountain communities by keeping funding in Colorado neighborhoods and “give control to local communities to address the specific housing challenges facing their hardworking residents.”

“In Eagle County, we know there’s a need to build more affordable housing, and when Prop 123 passes, Eagle County can apply for more funding to ensure new developments stay affordable to hardworking residents over time. This becomes possible through a prioritized review process for projects in which 50% or more of the residential units are set aside as affordable housing,” Johnston said.

This element of local control was something that Eagle County School District Superintendent Philip Qualman said was one of the pieces he likes best about the proposition. This, he said, will give county governments “the opportunity to decide how to invest those dollars in a way that makes the most sense for the needs of their community.”

A community need

In Eagle County, while workforce and affordable housing has been a long-held concern in the community, the challenges have only gotten worse in recent years.

Chris Romer, president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, said that over the years, he’s “seen first-hand how Colorado and Eagle County have shifted from a place of opportunity to a place where ordinary working folks struggle to find housing and small business owners can’t hire workers because people cannot afford to live here.”

Here in our area, affordable housing is one of the greatest challenges that we face because the cost to rent or buy a home is skyrocketing. The folks who make our community great can increasingly no longer afford to live here and stay here,” Romer said. “Today’s housing market makes it difficult for more than half of Coloradans to obtain stable housing or purchase an affordable home.”

Carrie Rogers, a special education teacher at Gypsum Elementary School, spoke about her personal experience working as an educator and struggling to find housing in Eagle County during her last nine years in the community.

“In those nine years, I’ve relied on other community members that took me in in exchange for dog sitting, or in exchange for cleaning or tutoring,” she said. “I started at $23,000 a year as a paraprofessional, I got my alternative teaching license, and while doing all that and getting my masters, to have to worry about housing through all of that, on top of your job? It makes a demanding job — a rewarding job, but a demanding job — so much harder. I’ve had my boxes packed twice and to have that instability of not knowing what’s going to happen next, it makes it not feel like home.”

Also, throughout this time, Rogers commented on the many peers, friends and community members she’s seen leave the community due to challenges with housing.

“It’s really hard to build that community with people who are working side by side with you when they don’t have a place to live as well because they didn’t have the resources I had,” she said.

This, Rogers said is why we need to “solve the housing crisis before it’s too late.”

On a greater scale, Qualman spoke about how the lack of affordable housing has affected the local school district.

“Our organization has about 900 employees and at this point, about 10% of those positions are vacant, vacant positions because we can’t find affordable places for people to live and those vacancies affect every single department in our organization,” he said.

Cook, in speaking about Vail Health, cited that of the organization’s 1,500 employees, “more than half” do not make enough money to be able to afford a house here.

Qualman called the proposition a “step in the right direction,” adding that it “will provide creative solutions and dedicated funds without raising taxes to address this problem.”

This problem, Johnston said, is one that will only continue to grow and affect future generations if not addressed.

The trajectory right now is that if an eighth grader in Colorado wanted to live in Colorado 10 years from now, the average home price in the state of Colorado, at this rate, is $1.7 million statewide. You would have to make $400.000 a year to be able to afford that,” he said, adding also that “the average rental in Colorado in 10 years will require you to make $106,000 a year to rent.”

“Unless we’re looking at a $53 an hour minimum wage, that means any of our kids that we hope will grow up and want to stay in this state face an almost impossible hill to climb,” Johnston said.

This measure, Johnston said would be the “first statewide measure passed by voters to address affordable housing in Colorado.”

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