Though the public open houses that were its most visible aspect are done for now, the fact-finding portion of the process to update Basalt’s master plan continued last week with a Thursday-night meeting aimed at gauging the extent of the local affordable-housing crunch.
Organized by CTA Architects Engineers, which has offices in Denver and elsewhere, and Basalt-based Connect One Design, the meeting brought together representatives from such entities as the Basalt Town Council, Pitkin County, Eagle County, Aspen Skiing Co., the Salvation Army, Real America LLC, Roaring Fork Fire and Rescue and the Basalt Affordable Community Housing Commission (BACH) to exchange ideas and thoughts about a Basalt-area affordable housing gap estimated at roughly 1,000 units.
“The numbers are daunting in terms of the need in the valley as far as housing affordability,” said Wayne Freeman, a principal partner with CTA and one of the leads on the master-plan project. “There’s a need for housing at the entry level as well as the mid-market level.”
Thursday’s meeting didn’t delve into possible solutions to the problem or questions of where to build housing and how to pay for it and focused instead on gathering information that will help CTA as it moves into the next phase of the master-planning process.
“What we’re charged to do is look at this as a piece of the overall comprehensive master plan for the Town of Basalt,” said Freeman. “What are the recommendations? What are the things that we can include so that eventually the town leaders are able to have something to use as a decision-making platform in the future as they go forward?”
Among the main takeaways from the meeting was the need to address the issue at a regional level rather than leaving it up to the various towns, counties and other entities in the valley to fend for themselves.
“If groups are looking to try to tackle this individually, you’re probably going to come up with a lesser solution than if you look at this more as a holistic problem,” said Freeman. “It’s a problem from Parachute to Glenwood Springs to Basalt, Carbondale and Aspen and all of the more rural spots in between.”
Part of the impetus for the meeting was the Greater Roaring Fork Regional Housing Study, a needs-assessment report made public in April that showed a valley-wide shortage of roughly 2,100 units for those making less than 60 percent of the area median income (AMI) and another 1,900 for those making between 100 and 160 percent of the AMI. It’s a study that showed that affordable housing is a major issue across a broad range of income levels and not just for those at the low end.
“I think the big issue that we see in communities like Basalt is that we have to take the stigma of affordable housing out of the picture,” said Freeman. “You have issues with affordability throughout the spectrum of entry-level housing, of folks that are characterized as more of service-sector employees, all the way up through the absolute core of your community – your teachers, firefighters, police. The heart and soul of your community have issues with housing affordability. That’s not uncommon elsewhere, but it’s front and center in the Roaring Fork Valley.”
The problem essentially boils down to numbers and how to rectify them, but part of the discussion Thursday night involved relating those numbers to the real people affected by the housing gap.
“There were stories and discussion about how businesses are having difficulties retaining employees,” said James Lindt, assistant planning director for the town of Basalt. “There was discussion from the fire district and the school district representatives that they have helped the situation by being able to build and get some affordable housing units over the last couple of years, but they’re mainly units that help with recruiting. They’re not necessarily units that will help them in the long run to retain employees, so they need to focus on that.”
Both Freeman and Lindt stressed that the meeting was not about making decisions or finding some silver-bullet solution to a problem that affects everyone in the valley whether they own a home or not (the housing gap is a major driver of related issues like commuter traffic). Instead, it was a chance for voices to be heard and for CTA to get a sense of the scale of the issue. Freeman and his associates will incorporate that information into the master plan update, which is slated to be finished by the end of the year. Then, hopefully, that data will help drive ideas and solutions in the years to come.