Impacts of Inadequate Affordable Housing
We connected with Becky Gray of Chaffee County, Colorado, to talk about the impacts a lack of sustainable housing has on a community. Gray is the Director of Housing in Chaffee County and a graduate of both Rogers State University and Pittsburg State University.
The below transcript has been lightly edited for clarity purposes.
Intro: Hey, look, it’s the Doublewide Dudes.
Mauricio Chacra: All right. All right. Welcome back to another episode of the Doublewide Dudes. Today we are joined by Miss Becky Gray. Thanks for joining us on this conversation about affordable housing and healthy communities. What’s going on in Colorado out there?
Becky Gray: Thank you so much for the invitation. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Alberto Piña: Yeah. And for our listeners, Becky is the Director of Housing in Chaffee County, out there in Colorado. She earned her bachelor’s in liberal arts from Rogers State University, and her master’s from Pittsburg State University. And Becky has been working to address the affordable housing issue for over two decades now. The last two years of which bring her back home to Colorado and Chaffee County to create some affordable and secure housing solutions. So thanks again for joining us.
Becky Gray: Again, my pleasure.
Alberto Piña: To start us off, Becky, can you tell us when we’re talking about affordable housing, what in Colorado does affordable mean when it comes to housing? What’s the problem look like out there?
Becky Gray: The problem is pretty significant out here. To level the playing field in all of our conversations, we’re beginning now to defer to a very standard definition of what is affordable. And when I say a standard definition, I mean in the affordable housing discourse community. And so, it’s a general rule of thumb, even if you are a private mortgage seeker, that the goal is to spend no more than 30% of your total income on housing expenses. And so in Chaffee County, we have agreed to use that as our benchmark for affordability.
Becky Gray: So if we can spend 30% of our total household income or less on housing, that housing is considered affordable. Between 40 and 50% of your income, we refer to that as rent burdened or cost burdened. And then, folks that have to spend more than 50% of their income, we refer to that as extremely cost burdened. So that definition helps us slide up the scale. Rather than attaching it to an income bracket, it allows people to continue earning more and more income over time, but continue to have a baseline cutoff for what they can consider housing affordable.
Alberto Piña: Yeah. That makes sense. I think most people in their careers as they continue to progress and get better the income goes up. But heck, even if you’re making a million a year, if you’re spending 800,000 of that on housing, you are extremely cost burdened and in jeopardy of losing that home. We had another guest a little further north, call it “athirdable” housing for that exact reason. They use the 33% as their rule of thumb up there, I think in Illinois [Editor’s note, it was Matt Fast of LEAP ROC in Idaho that shared “athirdable” with us].
Mauricio Chacra: Yeah, that’s a good number to go off of. Normally, you think affordable housing as just low income people, but I think it pertains the same to any income. But the 30% margin is to, “Hey, this is affordable, you still got money live your lifestyle and not get mortgage poor.” Or how they refer to that. But out there in Colorado, the affordable housing, is this about government handouts out there? What would it pertain to, and [what is] that about?
Becky Gray: That’s a great question. Chaffee County has a certain perspective when it comes to government. And the less we can rely on big government to help with our housing issues, I think the more embraced that approach is going to be in our county. The fact is that it costs the same to build a house, whether you’re going to rent it, or sell it at an affordable rate, or a for profit rate. So, if we think about it in terms of that, if you think about it in terms of a housing product, so a house, in order to reach lower rents or lower sale points, the build needs to be subsidized somehow. Or you could subsidize the purchase by offering down payment assistance. Or you could subsidize a rent, by paying a portion of someone’s rent every month.
In our community, it’s more palatable to subsidize a build one time knowing that that housing unit will exist for decades to come. It’s one-time investment for a long time gain, and many households can cycle through that housing unit and benefit from that one investment. So, rather than a government handout, in Chaffee we’re really looking at creative ways that we can create impact investment models. Our community is not poor by a lot of standards. So, a former work environment of mine had extremely high poverty rates, pushing 30% of the population in poverty in some instances. In Chaffee County, we really don’t have that.
What we have is a very wealthy residential base, primarily retired individuals that came from high earning professional positions, so we have a lot of community wealth. Those residents, however are not typically engaged in our workforce markets. And so we have an additional population that is our workforce. These are the people who are running our restaurants, and our grocery stores, and our childcare, and all of the essential services that a community needs, but can’t afford to live here. So we’re trying to identify a way that we can offer the community residents who have means an opportunity to invest in the build of housing for the rest of the workforce, so that we might be able to find space for all of us to be able to live here.
Alberto Piña: That is a very unique approach, and it makes complete sense. To your point, you invest on the front end, you’ve only got to do that once, and then that housing unit is now affordable for all the generations that will take advantage of it down the road. The missing middle is a term that we keep hearing as we’re having these conversations, and it sounds like that’s exactly what y’all are trying to address there as well. In Colorado and Chaffee County specifically, is that really who y’all are trying to build these solutions for?
Becky Gray: Yeah. So, missing middle really can have two definitions. One has a financial perspective, and one has a structural perspective. So talking about the structural perspective, I think it was Opticos Design that really has made this term popular in our discourse community. And what they’re referring to is a housing type, a housing structure. So, if you think back in our history before the suburban sprawl that occurred after the last World War, where everybody got a single family home, we had a variety of housing types. We had duplexes, and triplexes. We had mom and pop living in the back of their shop. We had larger apartment complexes that were mixed in with commercial purposes or office purposes. But then, the single family home ownership model really took over in our country from, say the ’40s on until recently.
And so, when we talk about missing middle housing type, we’re talking about everything between a single family home, and a multifamily complex of 100 units or more. So in Chaffee County, what that means is more duplexes, more quads, more cottage communities, more auxiliary dwelling units, et cetera. That’s really attractive in our community, because we have limited land to build on, we cannot sprawl. We also have limited water, we cannot sprawl. So creating that variety of housing type will help us achieve a density that can accommodate our population without destroying the natural environment that we all really value here.
When we talk about missing middle in terms of income level or affordability rate, it’s important to remember that most of our state and federal programs that our government handouts, quote unquote, they’re not a handout. Trust me, there’s a lot of work involved in getting that money. But they limit the income of the residents in those housing units based on how much they earn, and it’s in terms of our median income. So in Colorado, our low income tax credits serve up to 60% of our area median income.
In Chaffee County, the housing costs are so high that 80 or 61% of our area median income, up to even 200% of our area median income is still rent burdened, cost burdened, and housing insecure. So in the missing middle language, that would be the income brackets that we’re also hoping to serve with our nontraditional funding strategies that we’re evaluating.
Alberto Piña: Yeah, that’s super interesting. I’ve never heard it referred to in terms of the housing product itself, it’s always been, “The middle class is now becoming extremely cost burdened as well.” But that’s a unique perspective in terms of the product itself, and knowing where y’all are, I think y’all have the prettiest backyard in the country from what I’ve seen. So it definitely makes sense to look at different ways to build, to protect such a beautiful resource.
Becky Gray: Some of that missing middle too allows for personal capital growth, and personal equity growth. And what I mean to illustrate that, I’ll just share this model of a fourplex unit. A person can qualify for a conventional mortgage through Fannie or Freddie for up to four units. So rather than buying a single family home, I could buy a fourplex, and then I can have my own home in that fourplex, I can choose who my neighbors are, and their rent can help me pay my mortgage. So it allows a normal middle class person to break into a very expensive housing market by putting income generating properties around the residential unit. So I really think that missing middle piece in Chaffee County can allow a lot of us opportunity to build our own equity and our own real estate growth, where if we tried to do that with single family homes, it’s very, very difficult.
Mauricio Chacra: Yeah, it’s a good call. And actually investing, say, in a duplex or fourplex to be able to have people pay for your mortgage. I know I’ve had a couple friends here in San Antonio explore that venture as well to be able to help assist. The median price here is probably different from what it is in Colorado. But any of that, I think it just reflects to the income, and what can be based off. But it’s cool that Freddie and Fannie have those programs for a single residential family to be able to have that. But Bexar County here in Texas, it’s a pretty big area, and Chaffee County is small when it comes to affordable housing, and directors, and having committees and all that. Is there a reason a county of that size would have that attention, even though if it’s just smaller in comparison to others, or?
Becky Gray: Yeah. That’s a great question. We are small but mighty, I like to say. Chaffee County, our census data shows us having roughly 20,000 people in population. We have three municipalities, the towns of Buena Vista, Poncha Springs and Salida plus Chaffee County Proper. So there’s four jurisdictions within this community. Nearly 80% of our land is publicly managed by either national forests or Bureau of Land Management. So that puts a significant pressure on the roughly 20% of land that’s left. In addition, our mighty county is incredibly amenity rich. So within Chaffee County we have more 14,000 foot peaks than anywhere else in Colorado, which means we have the Colorado Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail, and peaks are summited by thousands of people a day during the summer.
We also have the Arkansas River flowing through the middle which sports some really excellent whitewater rafting and goldwater fishing. We also have a ski resort, two hot springs resorts, and then a huge, wonderful trail network that is expanding to make room for not only hikers, but also mountain bikers, off road vehicle enthusiasts, and horseback riders. So, because of all of that awesomeness, we have a lot of visitors. Our emergency management professionals on any given day in the summertime are prepared to evacuate or manage 40 to 60,000 people within our county. So while we’re small, looking at it from a census data, we are complex. And because we do have so many visitors coming here from so many other places, our demand is really high. Once somebody visits they usually want to come back and stay.
And so because of that, we have very rapid development coming to us quickly, and complex development coming to us, as well as development that is backed by significant financing. And Chaffee County has historically been a fairly sleepy community up until maybe a decade ago. The capacity of our staff and my colleagues to handle the volume and complexity of development has come to a point where our leadership thought it was important to create an office of housing, and hire somebody to manage the conversations around development and around affordability with a global lens. So it’s a very unique environment, unlike anything I was expecting when I took the job, to be honest.
Alberto Piña: Yeah, that’s awesome. It sounds like the exact place my family and I would want to go vacation to.
Mauricio Chacra: Yeah. All those things you’re listing off is all the things that I enjoy doing. Biking…
Becky Gray: It is a lovely place to live and visit. Absolutely.
Mauricio Chacra: … climbing, mountaineering, all that stuff. And I’m sure there’s an influx of people trying to get a piece of that, for sure.
Alberto Piña: Yeah. My brother in law, moved out to Colorado a few years back, and recently him and his girlfriend bought a house, and I was just blown away by what the cost of housing was. I think he’s right outside of Denver. But I was blown away by what the cost of housing was compared to here in Texas. If housing gets too far out of control, and if it skyrockets beyond the reach of the people and the community, all the ones you talked about, teachers, first responders and whatnot. What are some of the direct effects of that?
Becky Gray: I’m really glad you asked that. Currently, I’ve I just opened up our realtors report, this is for our region. Currently, our days on the market in MLS are less than 30 for a single family home. So a lot of times homes are getting sold before they even hit the market. So what that means, broadly from a higher level to a lower level, it slows economic development significantly, or it pigeon holes that economic development, I would say in our case. Because we are an amenity rich community, we have a lot of service industry jobs. When our non-service industry employers, so our health sector, or our manufacturing sector, are trying to recruit employees, like you said, moving from somewhere out in the plains up into the hills, it’s almost impossible. The equity that I had when I was living in Kansas didn’t transfer too much in Chaffee County. So it’s very hard to recruit qualified talent to expand our economy.
Another issue, is that it tends to divide a community, it makes it so that those who have housing become the haves, and those who don’t have the housing become the other. And that threatens the very diverse fabric of our community. I think probably an illustration of that, that pulls at my heartstrings the most is when I talk to our youth that are about to graduate from high school. And I could have 10 of them in a room, maybe one is planning on staying here, because the rest have to go find jobs on the front range, or in larger metropolitan areas where they can also find more affordable housing. And so then, that means that the generational progression of a community and that community character changes dramatically, and gets torn apart a little bit. We almost have to reinvent ourselves every time there’s a new influx of residents.
Mauricio Chacra: Yeah. That’s a crazy dynamic there. I mean, you want to lift the people that grew up in that community and have housing for them, but it’s just wild how a desirable place can really… 30 days in the market, it’s no time, people are just jumping in and swooping up these houses, and whoever has it, has it at that point. But, what are some other issues are factors… I know, say, for affordable housing, having impact on just no houses for people with low income or needing units to stay. What are some other impacts it has in the community that new affordable housing crisis creates?
Becky Gray: Yeah. I like to think about connecting housing and health. This has been the seat that I’ve been sitting in for the last couple of years. When people spend more than 30% on their housing, they have less money to spend on healthcare, or food, or childcare, or education. Those are all considered to be social determinants of health. When we have quality access to all of those things, the long-term health outcomes that we have are improved. So when we have less access to health care, food, childcare, education as well, overall the community’s health outcomes decrease significantly. So we see more diabetes, we see more chronic stress, we see more domestic disturbances, et cetera.
In Chaffee County, what we’re seeing is significant housing insecurity, and it’s only growing. And what I mean by that is, renters who have been happily renting in Chaffee County for some time, are now receiving notices saying, “This house is about to be sold, you’re going to need to move.” Because owners, we’re all capitalists and if you have somebody with a cash offer standing at your door, it’s an attractive offer. So what that means is, the tenants have to move at a moment’s notice. And with our rents increasing the way they’re increasing, and landlords asking for first, last, and deposit, it can often cost between $6,000 or $7,000 to move into a new rental unit, and that’s just for the deposit and rent, that’s not moving expenses.
So, I know last year there was a federal report that demonstrated that 40% of Americans cannot handle a financial emergency greater than $400. So when you’re talking about workforce in Chaffee County that’s earning, $30, $40, even $50 (or) $60,000, most people don’t have an extra 10 grand in the bank to move at a moment’s notice. So that housing insecurity is a big deal. It’s resulting in a lot of our workforce doubling up, living in overcrowded houses, having lots of roommates, which was awesome fun when I was in my 20s, but as a grandma now, I can’t quite imagine it. We find people living in substandard housing, or driving very, very long distances. And in our community, that usually means going over a mountain pass at least an hour in any direction to find housing that’s affordable.
When there’s less time at home because of that, there’s less family cohesion, which is also another social determinant of health. And then again, back to where, when there’s a community that doesn’t have space for the young adults to take root and start building their social equity and their financial equity, it diminishes the fabric of the community, and it diminishes the ability to root into the community and continue to embrace those cultures.
Mauricio Chacra: Yeah. You pointing all that out is very enlightening to me, honestly. It’s not just the lack of affordable housing, like, “Hey, I don’t have enough to pay for this house, the home is not there. Let me just do something else.” It extends to mental health, physical health, community, there’s just so much behind it to where it really just does mean everything to have a stable mortgage, and be a healthy human being, it’s what everyone wants.
Becky Gray: It’s true.
Alberto Piña: That’s 100% why y’all need a director of housing, Becky. That’s the answer to that question right there.
Mauricio Chacra: Yeah.
Becky Gray: Yeah.
Alberto Piña: You touched on the up-and-coming generation having to leave, so they can have a place to call home, and find a job. I imagine that’s hard on their parents or grandparents not being able to live by their next generation. But that’s also got to be impactful on the employers there as well. It almost sounds similar to the talent drain that we’re seeing in California. I feel like half the state is moving to Texas just because they need a place that’s affordable to live. How is that impacting the employers out there in Chaffee County?
Becky Gray: That’s a great question. I already mentioned the difficulty in recruiting new talent from outside of our county. That’s a significant barrier to economic growth. The other thing we’re seeing is that service industry employers cannot really raise the price of a sandwich a whole lot more. We’re already paying, say, $10 for a sandwich, and I don’t know that the market is going to take it. More so, our employers really want to contribute to the solution, but can’t do it through their business model. They have to pay the wages that they can afford to pay with their business model. And those wages are low enough that many of our lower wage earners elect to live in what my discourse community calls places not meant for human habitation. So that is your car a lot of times, or your van, or the back of your pickup truck.
Fortunately, like I mentioned, we’ve got 80% of our land is publicly owned, and so you can camp for up to 14 days at a time in BLM, or national forest land, and then move to another location at least five miles away, and then you can spend another 14 days. So, I tell you that because these are employees that are making our economy run, living in the back of their cars, et cetera. Now, part of it is by choice, again that was fun when I was in my 20s. But as a person develops relationships in the community, eventually that becomes a little bit tiresome.
So our employers have been burdened with accommodating a workforce that’s living in these really unstable environments. And that looks like a lot of things. I have heard of a restaurant owner installing showers behind the kitchen to make sure that her employees have a place to become clean before they start working. Many employers have purchased housings themselves and have become landlords to their employees, which opens up a whole host of complicated issues, and it’s not necessarily what they want to do. So I really think that it constrains employment in Chaffee County. Our economic development director and I work very closely together, and we consider economic development and housing two wings on the same airplane.
And so, if one is not healthy, the other has to work harder, and vice versa. So we really are trying to look at how we approach housing policy and housing development in Chaffee County in a holistic view. Looking at the entire ecosystem that surrounds housing, and economic development, and make sure that our policy recommendations and our actions don’t have unintended consequences down the road.
Alberto Piña: Yeah. I think you said, it’s a very complex challenge y’all are working to get figured out there. You spoke earlier, this divide that’s happening between the people that have housing, and everyone else. Is the lack of affordable housing in Chaffee County, something that will eventually affect even those that have a place to call home? Is that something that rolls up hill to where it affects the whole community? Or how do you how do you envision that happening if this problem is not solved?
Becky Gray: Yeah. I think we’ve already seen it happen, and I think the pandemic we’re currently living through has exacerbated that divide. Or maybe that’s not the right word, maybe the right word is illuminated that situation. So a great example is we have, again, service industry, with wonderful restaurants here, and so that the retired community that has the wealth really enjoys the good food and the excellent art that we have here, and the live performances that we have here. And when the pandemic reared its ugly head, some of those smaller entities that are really part of our social fabric, going out for a cup of coffee here is not about the coffee, it’s about who you see and the connections that you have. And we’ve seen some of those smaller establishments shorten their hours, maybe shorten their workweek, so they’re only open three days a week.
Maybe they’ve changed their menu entirely, so that they can support it with a staff of two instead of a staff of 15. And that has impacted those who are housing secure and who have the extra wealth to spend. They don’t get to engage in the social fabric of our community like they were accustomed to. So I think that’s one way that it impacts it. I think another way that we’re starting to see the economic divide become more illuminated, is in our school system, and in the way there are some students who have secure housing and there are others who are living in their RVs, or with family and friends, and the way that the youth interact with each other isn’t always wonderful. I mean, kids can be mean anyway. And then, if you throw into that mix that somebody doesn’t have access to a shower on a regular basis, it definitely changes the fabric of the community, again, the culture of the community.
Mauricio Chacra: Wow. It really does trickle down to every aspect, what I’m hearing and what it boils down to. That’s crazy. Alberto and I we work in the mobile home industry, and so much here in this county, in this state, it’s a big part of it. There’s so much land here in Texas, majority is flat, as much as I would like mountains here like there is in Colorado. But there’s a lot of area to put mobile homes and these land owners, turn to that for affordable housing. So we see that here. Mobile home communities also being a place to keep it affordable. And even here in San Antonio, there’s been some efforts to close, whatever, if it’s local government jurisdictions, passing laws for their purpose, or whatever, is just happening.
And I know in Chaffee County, in doing the research of talking about it, that that’s also happening over there, and the potential of getting closed. What do you think that the park owners, or what’s causing these mobile home communities, for their owners to consider shutting down their parks out there?
Becky Gray: Oh, yeah, that’s a conversation pretty near and dear to my heart. Most of our mobile home communities in Chaffee County were established a decade, or two, or four ago, so they’re fairly old. The time that they were established, our building codes were very different, and so the infrastructure under those parks are not up to par with our expectations today. So one thing that I have seen is that a park will change hands, and on the face it looks like a good real estate transaction, because the lot fees are paying for it. It seems like a good transaction.
But when that occurs, the old water and sewer systems are no longer grandfathered in, and they have to come up to our current state standards. Just a significant cost. And so then, the new park owners have the conundrum of investing in that infrastructure, and raising lot prices to the point likely where the mobile home owners can’t afford them, or simply scrapping the mobile home park model and subdividing and selling single family homes which they can make their money back on. And in the county, they can put them on wells and septics and they don’t have to put in infrastructure. You can put it on the new lot owner to put that infrastructure in. So that’s one of the market impacts that we’re seeing.
Another again, being an amenity rich community, where a lot of people live in their RVs, we’re seeing mobile home parks turn into RV parks. Some RV parks are bringing in close to $1,900 a month for a lot, whereas our mobile home parks, at least the ones that are affordable are still renting for 250 a month to 500 a month for a lot. So if you’re looking at only the financial perspective, it certainly makes sense to, no offense guys, but rent to an RV from Texas for the summer months, make up all of your money in three or four months out of the year, and not have to deal with tenants throughout the rest of the year. So I think that’s another market pressure that we’re seeing.
I am happy to say though, that some of our longer term park owners have been engaging with me in conversations about resident owned communities, so that when they’re ready to divest of their investment in that park, due to their age, or just lack of desire to continue going anymore, that they’re willing to give the residents of their park first right of refusal, so that we could help coordinate those residents to create a cooperative and obtain a ROC loan, and allow those residents to essentially then be their own owners in a HOA type model.
Mauricio Chacra: Yeah. That’s part of the conundrum or problem when people call in. Half the battle is just having a location where to place it, and getting away from renting and people wanting to invest in equity or just their household. That’s part of the dilemma that sometimes comes up like, “Hey, we’re still going to purchase the home, make payments on the house, but we still have to rent the location.” So having a program like that, to eventually become an owner then, not only is affordable, but super attractive to get away from not being able to own a place.
But it happens, and I’m sure the park owners are going to make decisions sometimes for themselves, sometimes for the better their community, and you’ll have both aspects. But these parks close out there in Chaffee County, I know part of that would be displacing some of the residents there. But what do you think are some of the potential consequences for the people there if that happens?
Becky Gray: Yeah. That’s really, really difficult. Many of our mobile home owners are on fixed incomes, or they’re in older homes. So the cost of relocating those homes are one significant barrier, finding a location to move those homes to… Sometimes you can’t move them, if they’re over a certain age they just can’t be moved. And then we have to figure out how to dispose of them. That’s also difficult. But I think the saddest part to me is that, there’s no real options. So there’s nowhere to move a mobile home in Chaffee County, or very limited options. The cost of moving that home is so significant that folks on a fixed income, or in a lower income bracket really can’t afford.
Keep in mind that to move a mobile home out of this valley, you’re going over a mountain pass. Anyway out of this valley you’re going over 10,000 feet, so the cost is significant. But I think the saddest part is that it extracts those people from the social networks that they have come to rely upon for their own self wellbeing mentally and physically, so it takes you away from your church group, or your school group, or your neighbors that you’ve known for the last decade or two. And that’s the piece that’s most heartbreaking to me, because the closest place to land is going to be at least an hour away in any direction. And while an hour doesn’t seem too significant, it’s significant enough that you’re not having potlucks, and bridge club, and the typical social interactions that really keep people healthy into their later years.
Alberto Piña: Yeah. That was awesome to hear you mentioned these resident owned communities, these ROC communities. And we didn’t know too much about it until we had a guest on an earlier podcast that that’s what they did for their state, was help folks establish these ROC communities. And it was incredible to learn that one, despite all the stigmas, mobile home communities are the single largest source of non-government subsidized housing in the country. The country has to have it. But then, the stories like you were telling, the older residents that have that support from maybe the younger residents down the street that help pick up their meds that they rely on, or the potlucks, and it’s this fabric of the communities that you can’t see just on the surface level that has the potential to get destroyed if this is removed.
So, super excited to hear that y’all are exploring the ROC model. That is just such an awesome model. And for these landowners, like you said, we are a capitalistic society, it’s not a bad thing that they’re looking to make money on their investments. And, ROC is really one of those things where they get to have their cake, and the community can eat it too. That they get to make money and sell it at a profit, and the community still gets to maintain that source of housing there. Outside of ROC communities, what are some of the other solutions that you and your team are working on to help ease the affordable housing problem in y’all community?
Becky Gray: So many moving parts.
Alberto Piña: I bet.
Becky Gray: Let me just start with how I allocate my time. One of the initiatives that I’ve spent quite a bit of time on is funded by Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment Office of Health Equity. It is called a Health Disparities Grant Program. And our grant is aiming to increase our community’s capacity to handle this diverse and rapid development in such a way that we can prevent displacement and increase equity in our community. We’re doing that through a speaker series started in 2019, and we’re wrapping it up in April of this year. And all of our speakers are subject matter experts from across the country talking about a variety of land use topics.
So, missing middle housing, we had Drew Finkie from Opticos Design come talk about missing middle housing. We had Chuck Marohn from Strong Towns come speak to us. Kevin Shepard from Verdunity. He’s also a Texan. I think he’s out of Dallas. He came to talk about the cost of infrastructure and infrastructure finance. We had a gentleman from Vermont named Randall Arndt talk about conservation subdivision design, really important in a community where we’re trying to make sure that elk can live here too, not just us. And what we’ve done there is a data collection of the participants who engaged in those capacity building activities, and we’ve demonstrated that our community does have a deeper understanding of land use strategies.
So that wove right in with our county’s comprehensive plan update that just completed, and now we’re going to move into our land use code update. So those educational series will continue to feed the land use code conversation. The idea being that… I had a developer explain this to me over simplified when I was first starting. The four L’s of development. There’s land, logs, labor, and law. And we can’t change the land, and we can’t change the cost of lumber, we can’t really change the cost of labor, but we’re totally in control of our laws. So by adjusting our land use, we can make more room for missing middle, we can make more room for equitable development rather than our half million, I shouldn’t even say that, there are now $1.5 million mc mansions all over, et cetera.
We’ve also created a multi-jurisdictional housing authority. So all of the four jurisdictions I mentioned signed one intergovernmental agreement, and are putting funding into the housing authority, and that housing authority is going to then be the driver of housing policy, and the manager of affordable housing initiatives. We are looking at inclusionary housing ordinances, the city of Salida has already adopted one. And that essentially says, anyone annexing into the… Or into the city of Salida has to have 12.5% of the total units created permanently affordable.
So that has resulted in a significant number, actually, of new affordable housing coming on our market here. It’s easy when it’s a low income tax credit development, because those tax credit developers have to make sure they’re permanently affordable. But when it’s a private market developer, so say, I’m making 15 housing units, and three of them have to be affordable, the affordable monitoring falls back on the housing authority, and that’s done through deed restrictions. So we’re putting restrictions on the deed, to make sure that the owners or renters of those housing units meet community qualifications.
And those are yet to be determined. We started out talking about income levels, but as we really dug into the data, we realized we really just want people who work here to be able to live here. So we’re trying to determine what those deed restrictions are looking at, or what they’re going to look like. And then lastly, I think is just creating that ecosystem that I mentioned with our economic development director to find ways to do incremental development. So what I mean by that is, taking a single family home, turning it into a triplex or a duplex, or it could be a lot in a mixed use area having the commercial space and one residential unit be created first, and then slowly add more residential units, so that we can create community wealth.
So, this small-scale incremental development combined with impact investments so that we can have local investment in our community. And I just want to touch on why that local thing is so attractive to us. You might remember earlier in our conversation, I said the state and federal programs have income guidelines for tenant selection. So in an anecdotal example, in my past career, I operated a Section 8 program, which is a rental subsidy program. And saw people working hard to improve themselves, doing so, getting better education, getting better employment, coming to report that to our office because they were required to, and then my staff saying, “Congratulations. You are going to need to move because you now make too much to live here.”
And we don’t want to do that in Chaffee County. We want to encourage people to put their roots in, and to improve their economic conditions. And so if we have local investment in housing development, we’re in charge of those rules, and we don’t have to have an income cliff where when our tenants or homeowners reach that income, they don’t get to live there anymore, we can expand that to make sure that they’re able to sink their roots in, contribute to the fabric of the community, and contribute to the community character. So I think that last piece is really, really innovative and exciting, and I’m just super grateful for the partners I have that are working on that, and I’m pretty anxious to see some projects come to fruition.
Alberto Piña: Oh, that is awesome. I have learned a tremendous amount in the brief time we’ve been visiting, and it definitely sounds like y’all have got a very complex set of issues there. But at the same time, it sounds like y’all have got some very creative, innovative, complex solutions that I think a lot of communities across the country could certainly learn from. If someone in the audience is interested in learning from some of the speakers you mentioned, or what you and your team have put in place, where can they find out more about the solutions y’all are working on to help solve this problem in your community?
Becky Gray: I’m so glad you asked. I have this fantastic team, one of which is a web developer. So we have a website that I can aim you at, that is housinghealthChaffee.org. And Chaffee is spelled C-H-A-F-F-E-E. So all one word, housinghealthChaffee.org. You can, from there, find the links to our speakers, and the speaker series recordings. There’s also an advocacy page where we’re putting information for our community members to use when they want to weigh in during public hearings, or to write letters to the editor, et cetera. And then there’s also a storytelling initiative launched on there to bridge that gap between those with secure housing and the other. We want to make sure that those with secure housing when they see these stories, they might see their favorite bartender, or they might see the cashier from Safeway, and they might recognize that these are people they really value in their community, and the other is really immense. We’re all in this together. We are Chaffee County, and we’re going to solve it together. So it’s a really exciting website. I hope everybody checks it out.
Alberto Piña: I love it. We’ll be sure to link that in our show notes. Well, thank you so much for joining us, and teaching us about what y’all are doing, and what we might be able to apply down here in Texas.
Becky Gray: Oh, you’re so welcome. And thank you for the invitation, and I hope we can continue this conversation over the years to come.
Alberto Piña: Absolutely.
Mauricio Chacra: Absolutely. Thank you Becky. We appreciate your time. All right. Well, that does it for this episode. Thanks for tuning in guys, and we’ll catch you guys in the next one.
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