Basalt greenlights 27-unit Habitat for Humanity housing project

by M. John Fayhee, Special to the Aspen Daily News

The Basalt Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a 27-unit development proposed by Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley (HFHRFV) on eight acres adjacent Basalt High School.
The project, Basalt Vista, which has been in the conceptual works since 2015, will consist of nine duplexes and three triplexes. Fifteen of the units would be reserved for teachers employed by the Roaring Fork School District. The remaining 12 units would be made available to Pitkin County workers.
The council agreed to subsidize the project to the tune of $386,000, according to Town Manager Ryan Mahoney.
“The first part of that is a $115,000 subsidy from the water enterprise fund, which would mitigate tap fees,” Mahoney said. “There was some concern that existing water customers who have already invested in the system would be providing a subsidy for these folks. In the end, council decided to use a line of credit we have dedicated to affordable housing to pay down that $115,000. That should be metered out in 3-4 years.”
The remainder of the town’s fiscal subsidy will come in the form of forgiveness of development and building fees, Mahoney said.
That forgiveness made the project workable as it was initially conceived, according to Scott Gilbert, president of HFHRFV.
“With that subsidy, we are now able to offer nine category-one units,” Gilbert said. “Without the town’s help, we would have only been able to offer one category-one unit. That translates to a $50,000 price difference, or $300 a month in mortgage payments, which is significant.”
Category one units would be available to buyers who make 60-80 percent of the area’s median income, while category two units are available to buyers who make 81-100 percent of the area’s median income.
So, Gilbert said, because of the town council’s largesse, eight additional lower-income buyers will be eligible to plant their residential flag in Basalt Vista.
“Our previous projects have targeted people on the lower end of the economic spectrum,” Gilbert said. “This is our first effort primarily focused on a specific job and an income level higher than about 60 percent of the median income,” Gilbert said in September.
Gilbert said he decided to pursue a project of this magnitude and specificity because he personally has a background in teaching.
“My daughter is also a teacher in Denver, and I know how hard it is for teachers to get adequate housing,” he said. “Basalt is located in a tough spot for teachers. Teachers who live in Parachute and Silt are more likely to work in Glenwood Springs. They are not as likely to drive all the way to Basalt.”
Gilbert proposed partnering with the Roaring Fork School District and Pitkin County government to develop Basalt Vista.

 Courtesy Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley
An artist’s rendering of the Basalt Vista housing project, which received Basalt Town Council approval on Tuesday night. Fifteen of the project’s 27 units will be reserved for Roaring Fork School District teachers.

“The school district had the land, which is valued at about $3.2 million, and the county had the money — about $2.75 million — to support affordable housing,” Gilbert said. “I met first with Mike Scanlon when he was still town manager of Basalt, and then with county manager Jon Peacock. It has been a good partnership.
“The advantage we have as a nonprofit entity is that, unlike private-sector developers who have to figure out how to make money off housing projects, we focus on how to make it work so an owner can afford to buy a home,” Gilbert continued. “We lose money on every home we build. The private sector cannot work that way.”
The budget for Basalt Vista will total about $15.7 million (including the land donated from the Roaring Fork School District) — which comes out to about $581,000 per unit.
The budget includes about $900,000 for design and engineering; $3 million for infrastructure, such as utilities and roads; and $8.6 million for the actual home construction.
Financing sources include the donated land and the subsidy from Pitkin County, a $1.75 million subsidy from HFHRFV and $8 million from projected home sales.
The residences will range in size from 1,200-1,600 square feet. There will be two-, three- and four-bedroom models. Cost for the units is projected to run between $245,000 and $345,000.
“By the time we get to the starting line, we will have spent over $500,000 on things like design and architectural plans,” Gilbert said. “This is a project that comes with no risk to the school district.”
Gilbert considers the project to be groundbreaking because of the partnerships required.
“I have received calls from all over the country from people wanting information on how we made this happen,” Gilbert said.
“We are thrilled that the town came together on this,” Gilbert continued. “This project will have long-lasting benefits for teachers, students and the community in general.”
Next on the agenda for Gilbert and HFHRFV will be going through the permitting process.
“We have various applications, including a state permitting requirement, we need to complete,” Gilbert said. “We will start working on that immediately in hopes that we can get started building as early in the spring as possible.”
Policies centered around organizing a lottery for prospective buyers and re-sale of the properties will also have to be established.
“It’s great to see the council come together,” Mahoney said. “There was some discussion with regard to the fees, but, at the end of the day, there was unity. They figured out a solution that was workable for everyone.
“There’s a positive contribution to having these folks living in the community they work in,” he continued. “It helps with the social fabric. There’s intrinsic value to having a less-transient community.”
Gilbert hopes to have units ready for occupancy by 2021 or 2022.