A recent study by Economic & Planning Systems and RRC Associates of Boulder shows a shortfall of 500 housing units in the Basalt area in the next decade, and the main reasons driving that need are “lack of affordable housing throughout the valley, the high number of commuters and the aging workforce.”
Those facts will not be surprising to the thousands of commuters who sit in their cars every workday morning, inching along from the Pitkin County airport into Aspen more slowly than the time it took them to drive from the Mid-Valley to Sardy Field.
“Demand is very high right now, with far more calls coming in from people that want to rent rather than from property owners that have a unit to rent,” says Nick Hough, a real estate broker with Mason and Morse in Carbondale.
Is it feasible for Basalt and private developers to build 500 new units in the Mid-Valley? What would the implications be if they actually built those units?
“As the affordable housing study is newly presented, the town staff has not yet conducted an analysis to either confirm or refute the finding of that study related to the town’s affordable housing needs,” explains James Lindt, assistant planning director for the town of Basalt.
The housing study prompts several questions. How many units of affordable housing does Basalt currently have? How many new units are under construction or in the planning stages? Should Basalt and Down-Valley communities pay for the infrastructure costs of housing that is being created to satisfy Up-Valley employers?
According to the town of Basalt’s Master Plan, affordable housing is an important asset and a continuing goal: “The Town of Basalt considers affordable housing an important aspect of the community, as important as trails, parks, open space, libraries, etc.”
The master plan describes why it is important to have a “supply of housing affordable by households earning the salaries paid in the Town of Basalt” and it explains how this creates a “sustainable town” and a “sense of community.”
In order to accomplish these affordable housing goals, the town created an affordable housing program, much in the same way that Aspen, Pitkin County and other resort communities across Colorado have done to fight the high cost of living and make it easier for employees to live in the areas.
Taking stock of the housing stock
Currently, the town of Basalt has 212 housing units that are part of its affordable housing program, according to assistant planning director Lindt. They are spread out from Old Snowmass to Willits with the largest number of units, 56, being housed at the Roaring Fork Apartments, next to Stubbies along Highway 82. Seventy-five rental units are located in Willits and an additional 37 rental units are located at the Roaring Fork Club.
The rents for the town’s housing units are based on the area’s mean income. Basalt’s housing program consists of categories 1, 2 and 3. Category 1 households must make less than 80 percent of the mean area income, Category 2 households must make less than 100 percent of the mean area income and Category 3 households must make less than 120 percent of the mean income.
Basalt uses a weighted average based on the percentage of the town’s population that is in Eagle County and Pitkin County for Area Median Income (AMI) in administering the community housing requirements. The town’s four-person AMI using the weighted average is $96,632.
The maximum monthly rent a Category 1 household can be charged, according to Lindt, is: $1,352 for a one-bedroom; $1,546 for two-bedroom; $1,739 for three-bedroom and $1,835 for a four-bedroom unit. The maximum monthly rent a Category 2 household can be charged is: $1,691 for a one-bedroom; $1,932 for a two-bedroom; $2,174 for three-bedroom and $2,295 for a four-bedroom.
At the May 14 Basalt Town Council meeting, where the SkiCo project was reviewed, multiple local residents questioned different aspects of their affordable housing program.
Some felt that Mid-Valley residents were being unfairly burdened with additional affordable housing projects because they place additional burdens on infrastructure, like fire, police, utilities and roads.
According to this sentiment, building increased affordable housing projects for Aspen and Up-Valley employers ends up increasing the costs of longtime Down-Valley residents, many of whom may already be retired. A couple of other local residents felt that higher wages would help mitigate the financial ability of residents to afford to stay in both affordable and free-market Mid-Valley housing.
What’s built, what’s planned
One affordable housing project that currently does help alleviate affordable rental housing in Basalt is the Roaring Fork Apartments. The 56-unit project is a single, four-story building featuring one- and two-bedroom units. The project gained its entitlements under Basalt and Pitkin County affordable housing guidelines and received section 42 federal tax credits that have lower income requirements than either Basalt or Pitkin County.
Ronda Weybright is the founder and president of RealAmerica LLC, which developed the project next to Stubbies.
“I started the company 25 years ago, and it’s my passion. I grew up in church housing and was very poor. I got lucky and got a job with a housing company after I went to night school for eight years. It's important to me because of where I came from, but it’s also incredibly rewarding to provide opportunities for people in need,” she says.
According to Weybright, the company continues to look for additional affordable housing opportunities “from Glenwood to Aspen.”
Another entity that is working to build affordable housing in Basalt is Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork. Their Basalt Vista project next to Basalt High School is a 27-unit project for workers in Pitkin County and teachers in the Roaring Fork School District. Creating housing for those in need and creating community are two stated goals of Habitat for Humanity in its Roaring Fork Valley projects.
A project that could help provide additional affordable rents in the Mid-Valley is the Tree Farm across Highway 82 from Willits.
“According to the Tree Farm PUD Control Document on the Eagle County Planning Department’s website, of the approved units for the property, 50 of them are to be deed-restricted such that they have rent caps or initial sales price caps,” says James Lindt.
In the future, the Stott's Mill housing project, planned for construction just north of Basalt High School, is another development that could include deed-restricted housing. It was approved in 2017 with 23 deed-restricted price-capped units that would include 19 rentals and four vacant lots on which single-family homes could be built.
Looking at the overall Mid-Valley prospects for future affordable housing and whether Basalt and its citizens can afford to build 500 new affordable housing units, Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney comments: “In the past two years the town has fulfilled some of its (housing) goals through units at Willits, Real America and Habitat for Humanity. We don’t think it’s the town’s responsibility to provide those 500 units. Instead Basalt will always be open to opportunities for partnerships with the private sector, including the one that the Aspen Skiing Co. has proposed at Willits.”