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La Plata County starts affordable housing fund

$1.7 million in COVID-19 relief money will be allocated to a pool for grants and loans
La Plata County commissioners unanimously created the Investment in Affordable Housing Revolving Loan Fund. The county will use $1.7 million of federal COVID-19 relief money to offer loans and grants to groups undertaking a wide range of affordable housing projects, including the construction of new developments and the rehabilitation of existing housing. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

In the wake of Westside Mobile Park, La Plata County has moved to make its affordable housing efforts more nimble.

La Plata County commissioners voted unanimously during their business meeting April 12 to create the county’s Investment in Affordable Housing Revolving Loan Fund, designating $1.7 million the county has received in COVID-19 relief money. The new fund will support a range of investments in affordable housing through grants and loans administered by the county’s Finance Department.

“We all know that improving housing affordability is going to require many tools: developer incentives, public-private initiatives and also funding,” said County Attorney Sheryl Rogers. “Today, we’re considering the third component of that, which is funding.”

The Investment in Affordable Housing Revolving Loan Fund will serve as a pool of money the county can use to offer loans and grants to groups tackling affordable housing in the county.

Both nonprofit and for-profit entities can apply for the loans and grants, which can be used across a spectrum of affordable housing initiatives. They can aid in the acquisition and preparation of land for new developments; building and infrastructure costs; the construction of senior housing and transitional and permanent supportive housing for the unhoused; rehabilitation projects; and the conversion of existing housing into affordable housing, among others.

“Essentially, this will create a revolving loan fund where both grants and loans are made available to assist with a whole host of activities intended to make housing more affordable,” Rogers said.

The county will use $1.7 million of the approximately $10.9 million the county will receive from the American Rescue Plan Act to establish the fund, though the commissioners can add money at any time. The interest that is generated by the loans will be reinvested to help the fund grow.

The county’s Finance Department will administer the fund with oversight from a five- to seven-member review committee. The committee will determine the criteria for the loans and grants, review applications and make recommendations to the commissioners, who will represent the final approval for loans and grants.

The committee will include the county’s finance director, two members of the La Plata County Long Term Finance Committee and two members of the board of directors of the Regional Housing Alliance. The finance director can also add two temporary members drawn from community housing groups, such as HomesFund and Housing Solutions for the Southwest, during a grant or loan cycle.

Commissioner Marsha Porter-Norton said management of the fund by those with backgrounds in finance was important to ensuring the money addresses affordable housing.

“Housing is after all something that has to be paid for, so having that set of eyes from people that have a really refined finance lens, I think, is important,” she said.

In documents county staff members submitted, they cited figures from the December 2021 Colorado Association of Realtors report to frame the need for the affordable housing fund. That report found Durango had six available single-family homes and La Plata County’s median home price had swelled to $740,000 in November 2021, up 25% from 2020.

The most recent Colorado Association of Realtors report for March 2022 found that La Plata County’s median home price has already jumped $9,500 since then.

While the county’s affordable housing crisis has been ongoing, the creation of the Investment in Affordable Housing Revolving Loan Fund was driven by the sale of Westside Mobile Park.

Elevation Community Land Trust and Westside residents asked the county for a $1.5 million loan to support their purchase of the park. With a short deadline, the county had to scramble to help prevent the potential loss of 58 units of affordable housing.

“When the Westside proposal came to us, we didn’t have any policy or procedures and we had to act quickly,” Porter-Norton said. “I see this as a very important step as we go forward.”

The fund will allow the county to react more nimbly in similar cases now that a funding structure is in place.

The $1.5 million loan the county offered Elevation Community Land Trust will come out of the new fund.

During commissioner comments, Commissioner Clyde Church highlighted the Investment in Affordable Housing Revolving Loan Fund as a way for the county to aid in the development of substantive affordable housing projects.

“This is a great opportunity to leverage county funds to take advantage of other financing mechanisms and partners so that we can make big projects happen with little money,” he said. “When you start looking at housing or broadband, you start seeing huge projects out there that need to be accomplished in the long term. This is a great mechanism. It’s one of many steps to take in providing housing and getting it in place for the future.”

As La Plata County implements the fund, it will look to refine its efforts to better address affordable housing, Porter-Norton said.

But for now, the commissioners are celebrating the expanding presence of the county as it endeavors to find lasting solutions to affordable housing.

“This is a great role for the county,” Porter-Norton said.


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