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Durango sets sights on affordable housing solutions

Publicly funded ideas draw interest, questions
Durango Planning Commissioner Geoff Hickcox and Durango resident Sara Olsen look at displays on the city’s draft affordable housing plan set up at the Durango Community Recreation Center during a meeting on Monday.

The cost of buying and renting a home in Durango has escalated steeply in recent years, and rent in the city limits is now on par with Aspen and Steamboat Springs, City of Durango Planner Mark Williams told a crowd of residents Monday night at a city-sponsored forum about affordable housing.

According to the city, the average housing unit in Durango in 1991 was 3.5 times the average income. Today, it is 6.9 times the average income.

The city’s recently released draft plan, which was the subject of Monday’s forum, is about how to attain affordable housing and includes a range of ideas, such as creating market-friendly regulations, prioritizing density, creating a housing trust fund, creating a land bank program and establishing 1,000 long-term affordable units by 2035. Monday’s forum touched on these ideas, which underscore the intent that they be publicly funded.

“There will not be a market-rate solution to all of this,” said audience member Peter Tregillus, who is also member of the Durango Planning Commission.

Residents typically have to qualify based on their income for publicly funded housing. For example, a household of two living at Lumien Apartments on 32nd Street could earn no more than $35,760 annually.

Brigid Korce, a programs development director for Housing Solutions of the Southwest, suggested the city set goals for the number of housing units it would like to provide for residents earning different levels of income. Overall she appreciated the city’s efforts.

“I’m super excited by all these recommendations,” she said in an interview.

The city’s draft plan does not suggest the option of deed restrictions, which limit the uses of a property. Often such restrictions are used to prevent affordable housing from becoming market-rate housing.

“I urge caution on deed restrictions,” audience member Bob Delves said.

Delves is a former mayor and council member in Mountain Village near Telluride, a community that has hundreds of various deed-restricted units. He said the restrictions were aimed at provided employee housing, but they also require extensive management.

“We don’t care who owns the house. We just care who occupies it,” he said.

To help financially support affordable and attainable housing efforts, the city of Durango has identified options such as asking voters to approve a dedicated sales tax or excise tax; increasing the fee is charges homeowners to demolish a house; and applying for state and federal funding.

“These are ideas we are going to look at and take to City Council over the next year or two,” Williams said.

It could also work with developers to set up a voluntary transfer fee that would apply to property sales in a neighborhood, excluding the first sale of a house.

The city may also try to streamline the development process, reduce parking requirements, and eliminate density caps to encourage more market-rate construction, the plan states.

The plan is going to be presented to both the Durango Planning Commission and Durango City Council for approval. If approved, the staff will present land-use code amendments based on the plan, Assistant City Manager Kevin Hall said.

“We already have a lot of code amendments queued up,” he said.

The amendments are focused on parking, height and density, he told the crowd.

The city is also considering adopting new building codes that would allow for construction of tiny homes, Williams said.

mshinn@durangoherald.com

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