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City of Durango drafts affordable housing plan

Goal is to encourage construction
The city has drafted a housing plan that has a range of ideas to help create more affordable housing in Durango. While increasing housing options in the city is important, meeting the need for housing will also require building units in the county, said Roger Zalneraitis, executive director of the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance.

The city’s recently released draft Durango Housing Plan lays out strategies to encourage construction and to address the increasingly unaffordable housing market.

The city of Durango is aiming to increase affordable housing options for everyone, create market-friendly regulations, prioritize density, set up a housing trust fund, create a land bank program and establish 1,000 long-term affordable units by 2035.

“Durango cannot regulate its way into workforce housing,” according to the 57-page plan.

In the short term, the city could allow secondary-housing units, like granny flats, in more areas of town and evaluate zoning to increase density and housing, according to the plan.

To encourage more residential construction, the city could also reduce parking requirements and eliminate density caps in some areas, it states.

The city will need to generate revenue for some long-term goals, such as establishing a land bank program, but does not intend to increase the upfront costs of developers, said city Planner Mark Williams.

“The city is aware of the burden that upfront costs pose to housing developers,” he said in an email to The Durango Herald.

The plan suggests revising the city’s fair share ordinance, which requires those who build four or more units to set aside 16 percent of the units as affordable housing or pay fees in lieu of the affordable units, the plan states.

The city could revise the fair share requirements by reducing the fees owed up front and work with the developer on instituting a voluntary transfer fee that would apply to future property sales, Williams said.

For example, the voluntary Home Owner Association transfer fee at Three Springs is a half percent on every real estate transaction, excluding the first sale of a house, according to the plan. Over 40 years, the fee will generate $25 million for housing programs.

The plan also explores new revenue sources to fund affordable housing. The money could go into a housing trust fund that then could be used as matching money for grants, loan money for developers and other purposes.

“The city has to accumulate some capital in order to make a bigger impact on affordable housing,” he said.

The new revenue could also be used to buy land that the city could set aside and either sell to developers at a discount or provide for free, and reduce the cost of eventual development, the plan states.

To raise revenue for housing, the city could ask voters to approve a dedicated sales tax or excise tax. It could also charge fees on new commercial construction, increase the $15 fee charged to demolish a house, and apply for state and federal funds, among other options.

The new funding could help the city support the construction of 1,000 affordable units by 2035, the plan states.

Zalneraitis

While increasing housing options in the city is important, meeting the need for housing will also require building units in the county, said Roger Zalneraitis, executive director of the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance.

“Looking just to Durango to solve all of our housing problems, is not going to solve all of our housing problems,” said Zalneraitis, who served on the Housing Policy Advisory Committee.

Laura McKinney, another committee member, agreed that the city and county need to work together to address housing problems. Extending public transportation to serve affordable housing outside city limits should be part of the conversation, she said.

Building new affordable housing is difficult because it must carry the high costs of labor, materials and infrastructure. But the new homes can take some of the market pressure off the older homes, Zalneraitis said.

The city will hold a community housing forum next week to discuss the proposal. Zalneraitis recommended that those interested in attending should consider what specific housing problem they are interested in solving, because different policies will help solve different needs.

For example, lowering the median price of housing will require different policies than providing housing for the poorest in the community, he said.

mshinn@durangoherald.com

Draft Durango Housing Plan (PDF)

If you go

A community housing forum will be held from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Oct. 30 at the Durango Recreation Center, 2700 Main Ave. City officials will make a short presentation at 5:30 p.m., and the remainder of the time will be spent collecting community input. Residents can drop in at any time.

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