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More affordable housing is coming to Silverton

Town purchases 1.2 acres adjacent to existing subdivision
The town of Silverton has purchased 1.2 acres adjacent to a subdivision that will allow it to build affordable housing. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The historic mountain town of Silverton will be providing more affordable housing for its residents with the purchase of 1.2 acres of land on the southeast side of the valley. In coming years, the town will build an estimated 12 single-family units or 17 townhomes, depending on the needs of the community.

Currently, one of the only affordable housing areas in Silverton is the Anvil Mountain subdivision, rental units outside town limits in San Juan County. The subdivision’s construction in June 2019 is considered Phase 1 of Silverton’s affordable housing project. The recent purchase of 1.2 acres is considered Phase 2, and the actual construction of the new family units and/or townhomes will be Phase 3, said Town Administrator Gloria Kaasch-Buerger.

Though the community has struggled with the lack of affordable housing over the last two decades, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic and the deceleration of seasonal worker migration, Kaasch-Buerger said recent strides have been made to tackle the problem head on.

In November 2021, brothers George and Earnest Zanoni, lifelong Silverton residents, approached the town council with an offer to purchase 1.2 acres of their land in order to build a series of housing units. The brothers agreed to hold the land until the town could secure funding for the purchase.

“We received a lot of offers on the property,” George Zanoni said at the closing. “All we wanted to do was sell the property to the town, so they can build houses on it.”

Year-round, Silverton has from 400 to 700 residents, though in the summer, that number increases to an estimated 1,200. According to a San Juan County housing needs assessment compiled by San Juan Development Association in August 2021, only 25 housing units were permitted for construction in Silverton from 2010 through 2018, though 101 new jobs were gained in that time.

Consequently, only 56% of San Juan County workers were able to live and work in the county by 2018, and the rest were forced to commute, which is a challenge considering Silverton’s isolated location, according to San Juan County.

Many of Silverton’s businesses have a seasonal economy, and they make nearly all of their income in six months. The need for more housing is greatest from May to October, when new employees arrive to work food and beverage, retail and lodging service jobs. Employers are often forced to find lodging for their seasonal staff members, which can include residents renting out rooms to co-workers.

In order to fund the entirety of the affordable housing project, the town of Silverton reached out to the Department of Local Affairs, which offers “assistance to local governments who demonstrate an understanding of the housing needs of their residents and communities, and show a commitment to taking the steps necessary to make changes to their land-use codes and related processes that can incentivize and reduce barriers to the development of affordable housing,” according to DOLA’s website.

The town of Silverton was able to obtain a grant from DOLA in March totaling $395,020, with a 20% match of $98,755 from the town trustees’ general fund, bringing the entirety of the project’s budget to $493,775.

“Silverton has taken leaps and bounds in the last three years,” said DeAnne Gallegos, executive director of the Silverton Chamber of Commerce. “This time the town is driving the project forward and not just the county. Affordable housing has been one of our biggest concerns for so long. This is a milestone for our community. Silverton has really come a long way.”

The acquisition of the Zanoni brothers’ property is advantageous for another reason: The property shares a border with the Anvil Mountain subdivision. The subdivision receives utilities from Silverton even though it sits just outside town limits. By purchasing land with a contiguous property boundary to Anvil Mountain, the town of Silverton can now pursue an annexation and bring Anvil into town limits.

“This is an incredible milestone for the town of Silverton,” said Mayor Shane Fuhrman. “The Silverton community identified affordable housing as a top priority, and although it may have seemed daunting to set such an ambitious short-term goal, the coordinated efforts of the town of Silverton staff, San Juan Developmental Association, DOLA and our new housing coordinator made our community’s ambitious dream become a reality.”

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