Creek Leaders Hope to Cash in On Voter-Approved Funding Program
The political push for affordable housing is picking up momentum in Cripple Creek and throughout Teller County, with leaders taking a more aggressive stance than ever before.
Instead of just talk, officials are seeking ways to open the purse strings for those wanting to do projects, or to lessen certain restrictions against the development of condos and town homes and manufactured units.
This week, the Cripple Creek City Council is slated to take the first step in formally joining a state program, established from the passage of Proposition 123, aimed at providing developers with extra monies to facilitate workforce housing projects. And in Teller County, the elected leaders could soon be forming a stakeholders’ group aimed at lessening the legal burden for developers of condos and town homes, projects that have basically screeched to a halt due to much sterner construction regulations.
Proposition 123 was a ballot issue okayed by state voters last November, setting the stage for more affordable housing programs with funding available from a certain amount of income tax revenue that the state can spend for these efforts.
And the amount of money available is quite impressive. However, the only catch is that a number of communities in Colorado could soon jump on the affordable housing funding jackpot.
Cripple Creek now wants a portion of a future annual pot of $320 million available through this program, which would offer a boost to developers who are seeking project funds from the Department of Housing and the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, according to local officials. The city itself wouldn’t receive the money, and would not be required to form any type of housing authority, but that level of involvement could occur down the road.
The initial review of this program received a thumbs-up signal by the council during a recent workshop. They basically gave Special Projects Director Jeff Mosher the go-ahead to move forward with the program, which requires an official opt-in action by the city.
More details will be unveiled at this Wednesday’s council meeting.
Cripple Creek Special Projects Director Jeff Mosher cited this as one tool the city wants to use to double its current inventory of housing units, which ultimately could give the town a potential lineup of close to 1,000 units, and possibly even more. The lack of housing, and especially workforce units, has been cited as probably the biggest problem facing the community, with the slew of new lodging projects and casino expansions and the need for more employees. “We need all available types of housing,” said City Administrator Frank Salvato, at a recent council meeting.
In the summer of 2021, the city took a major gamble by starting an unprecedented incentive program for developers and builders who are interested in doing workforce housing projects. For an extended period, developers were granted a 100 percent waiver in water and sewer tap fees.
This program has received an overwhelming response, but hasn’t resulted in any real big apartment developments. But still, building permits for housing have greatly expanded and proposals have been submitted for a few mega projects, such as one calling for more than 500 units. Since the program started, active work has been started on close to 30 units, according to city officials.
But elected leaders have recently started cutting back on these waivers, with more of an emphasis on viewing projects more on a case-by-case basis.
Cashing in On State Housing Funds
Now, the city wants to explore extra perks available through the state voters’ decision to favor more affordable housing programs.
“When we opt-in, the city is committing to growing our affordable housing stock by 3 percent each year for the next 3 years, for a total of 9 percent increase in affordable housing units (home ownership and rentals),” said Mosher. “We are currently working with DOLA (the state’s Department of Local Affairs) on determining what our current stock is and how many units would meet this criteria for Cripple Creek.”
Mosher believes this number will probably range between three and seven units per year, a target amount he doesn’t see any problems in reaching.
At the same time, the city has to better define what is meant by an affordable housing project. The state program would only make funds available to proponents of these particular projects. Last week, Mosher hinted that this price may linger around the $250,00 figure and less for these units, but admitted the city needs to evaluate this definition more with the help of state officials.
The deadline for filing for the opt-in period for the state affordable housing program is Nov. 1
On a cautionary basis, Mosher stated that the money set aside by the state for the program may not go that far, with the number of communities expected to partake in the effort. Initially, only $160 million will be available during the current fiscal year. But the affordable housing program funds will then increase to $320 million a year.
The council reacted favorably towards the plan, indicating it wants to take whatever action is necessary to spearhead the movement towards more affordable housing.
“Every little bit helps,” commented Mayor Pro Tem Melissa Trenary.
“Let’s get some of these projects going,” said Councilman Bruce Brown.
They just asked Mosher to provide more specific details regarding how many units the program could help facilitate. The special projects director said he has received inquiries from some developers who could qualify for the funds.
In the near future, the city may even take its pro-housing wager further and take action to form an actual housing authority, based on another grant program.
Spearheading More Condo Development
In other pro-affordable housing efforts, Teller County Commission Chairman Erik Stone recently announced the pending formation of a largescale stakeholders’ group to reactivate the development of condos and town homes throughout the area and in Colorado.
He believes this is a key gap in the state’s housing formula, a situation created by stern construction defect rules that crippled the building of these units. “We want to take the shackles off,” said Stone. He cited the construction defect laws, imposed against condos, over the last decade or so, which have had a negative effect.
As a result, he and other leaders and development insiders believe this has further escalated the housing crisis. “People now have the choice to rent or to buy a $400,000-plus home. It is really tough for someone just entering the housing market,” said the commission chairman.
Stone cited such projects as the Columbine Village town homes in Woodland Park and the Burro Ranch development in Cripple Creek as more of the models that are needed to help alleviate the housing woes in Teller County.
The stakeholders’ group would include elected officials, community leaders, home builders, real estate experts and concerned citizens.
At a recent meeting, he said the coming year will serve as an organization time for the group. But they hope to get official action firmed up in 2024, and lobby for regulation changes.