WP leaders spearheading newest effort for affordable housing

WP leaders spearheading newest effort for affordable housing

$25,000 study in the works

Rick Langenberg

In what may go down as round 10 in the difficult fight to find more affordable dwellings for local workers and seniors, Woodland Park has taken the lead role in developing yet another county-wide, comprehensive housing study.

The project, expected to cost a total of $25,000, would identify housing gaps and specific needs and would develop a strategic plan.

By a unanimous informal verdict, the WP Council last week gave City Manager David Buttery the go-ahead to secure $5,000 in city funds for the project.

The request was made by Councilman John Schafer, who is the leader of a new local non-profit affordable housing organization to deal with this ongoing problem. Other board members include WP Economic Development Director Brian Fleer and local architect Keith Meier.

Schafer noted that the county hasn’t had a comprehensive housing study done in 10 years.

And through the new non-profit group, Schafer is much more optimistic about resolving the city’s housing quagmire than previous proponents of this movement. “I think the timing is right,” said Schafer. “This would be money well-spent.”

He cited the findings of a state demographer that identified a significant shortage of affordable housing in Woodland Park, with more than 75 percent of local renters paying monthly amounts that are way above the amount they can realistically afford for housing. In addition, new statistics have revealed an extremely high level of commuting among local workers.

The idea of another study initially got a lukewarm support, as several council members questioned if the city really needs a study to finalize a conclusion that they already know about: The city faces a serious shortage in workforce and senior housing.

Councilman Noel Sawyer questioned if the study results would offer drastic different findings from the last comprehensive study, done in 2005. At that time, the study noted that Woodland Park, with the new Wal-Mart and the Pikes Peak Regional Hospital and the influx of seniors, faced a future shortage of more affordable housing units and in multi-family homes by at least several hundred units.

“We have been talking about this discussion so many times,” added Councilman Ken Matthews.

But veteran councilman Phil Mella, who served with the council when this issue was addressed before, argued that times have changed, including the political and business dynamics surrounding this problem. “It is a market-based plan,” said Mella, who supported the study. “It provides direction for the market. It provides seed money to jump-start the process.”

In addition, Mella noted that due to new construction trends, affordable housing is now more achievable in the eyes of builders and developers. “The (profit) margins are more inviting,” said Mella.

But that said, he indicated the movement still faces a stigma in Woodland Park. He urged Schafer to change the name of the effort to workforce or senior housing. He said the term affordable housing often conjures up images of welfare or government-supported housing projects.

Schafer said proponents of their group would be willing to do that, but he stressed that the end-goal is to develop more affordable housing projects. For example, he noted that the new Trail Ridge Apartments, once dubbed as a game changer for the new multi-family development boom in Woodland Park, is anything but affordable for local workers

City Manager David Buttery also supported the study, despite the big costs the city has to bear for several key capital projects, including a new aquatic center. “This is a small investment in our future,” said Buttery.

According to Schafer, if Woodland puts up the additional money, then it would make it easier to generate funds for the study from the cities of Cripple Creek and Victor and Teller County and private real estate companies/organizations.

The last study was done with a price tag of more than $50,000, with a considerable match from the state Department of Local Affairs. That also was done by several different consultant groups.

This time, Schafer believes the project could get done much quicker and with considerable lower costs. And unlike before, the study would be done by a single contractor, noted Schafer

Schafer said the non-profit housing group would spearhead the effort and hopes to have a consultant hired by the end of the year.