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Our View: Good news

Local governments take steps toward real solutions for housing crisis in La Plata County

Help is on the way.

At least that’s the way it feels as local government leaders are making strides toward big action on the housing crisis.

Elected leaders of La Plata County, Durango, Bayfield and Ignacio agreed at a recent retreat on housing issues to revive the Regional Housing Alliance, dormant since 2017, in an effort to put their collective muscle to work on the problem, as The Durango Herald’s Shannon Mullane reported.

The alliance – technically an intergovernmental authority with power to acquire funding, propose taxes, create public-private partnerships and take other actions – has an existing board made of up elected representatives and staff members of the various local governments, and may be augmented with more members as it is re-created.

And because its structure is already in place, the only thing stalling it is coming up with a plan of action. That, too, is underway. Southwest Council of Governments and Housing Solutions for the Southwest are working on a study due in August that will define needs. A consultant is gathering and analyzing data that will populate a public database to also help guide the RHA.

La Plata County Commissioner Marsha Porter-Norton said the revived RHA is not intended to duplicate or compete with efforts of local nonprofit groups such as HomesFund, Habitat for Humanity, Housing Solutions for the Southwest or La Plata Economic Development Alliance, which has made housing its top priority. Nor does it want to replicate or compete with local governments’ efforts.

“But RHAs have access to funding tools that a nonprofit and a government acting alone don’t have,” she said. Citing the state’s $500 million in new funding for housing, she added, “It will go quickly and we want to get in on that.”

Her excitement about the prospects is contagious.

“We have ideas about recruiting a really good manufactured home builder here. We have ideas about being a land bank, so if someone wants to donate land, they could do so, just as they would donate money to the community foundation. We have ideas about the governments buying land, like Bayfield did,” she said.

“I think all ideas are on the table.”

Durango Mayor Kim Baxter is also energized. She’s helping to draft a request for proposals to hire a firm to get the RHA into action, and fast. Long-term, the authority may have its own staff, but starting off with an experienced firm could get things moving quicker.

“We would all like to see significant activity for getting units on the ground by the end of next year,” Baxter said.

Additionally, City Council this week approved a mid-year budget adjustment to create a Housing Division within the Community Development Department, which was Baxter’s initiative. Councilor Jessika Buell has been working with Baxter to identify potential funding streams for housing.

The division will be led initially by a consultant who can create that program, interface with the RHA and take advantage of partnerships and funding that aren’t suited to the alliance.

Both the RHA and the new city Housing Division will be focused primarily on workforce housing – typically those who have full-time work but can’t find reasonably priced housing in the area in the inflationary real estate climate.

Baxter points out that other mountain resort towns in Colorado have faced and continue to face similar challenges.

“Aspen, Telluride, Crested Butte – everyone has these problems,” she said. “I’ve been asked, ‘How is Durango different?’ ”

Her answer?

“We still have the opportunity to maintain and enhance the character of Durango that the community loves.”

According to some estimates, more than 1,000 housing units are needed in Durango right now. So we applaud these efforts and are hopeful that the new and renewed initiatives soon will lead to concrete solutions instead of just more head-wagging, tsk-tsking and sad-faced emojis every time the housing crisis raises its head.

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