When the Basalt Town Council voted unanimously last week to forgive various development-related fees totaling $186,000 for a 27-unit housing project spearheaded by Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley, it continued a trend that gained institutionalized traction with the release of the town’s housing study in 2015.
That study, according to Town Manager Ryan Mahoney, showed that, between 2000 and 2010, the cost of living in Basalt increased by 26.5 percent, while median household income decreased by 2.3 percent. During that same period, the median home value in Basalt increased by a whopping 70 percent.
“In my short time here, the housing study gets cited as justification for supporting affordable housing,” said Mahoney, who took up his position in late June. “I think that the Habitat project provides a model example that emphasizes partnerships to really make a meaningful difference in providing affordable housing for our citizens.”
All told, Basalt’s various contributions toward affordable housing over the past few years have now topped $1 million, if cash outlays and fee forgiveness are added together.
And that does not even count the 17 (soon to be 19) units owned outright by the town.
The Habitat project, called Basalt Vista, which has been in the conceptual works since 2015, will consist of nine deed-restricted duplexes and three triplexes. Fifteen of the units will be reserved for teachers employed by the Roaring Fork School District. The remaining 12 units would be made available to other Pitkin County workers.
“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 three to four years.”
The remainder of the town’s fiscal subsidy will come in the form of forgiveness of development and building fees, he said last week.
Basalt’s recent contributions to the affordable housing market have all applied to deed-restricted properties, according to Mahoney.
In the past few years, Basalt has:
• given $500,000 paid over the course of two years to the Willits Block 7, which consists of 50 apartments and condos that fit Basalt’s affordable housing guidelines;
• given $176,000 in cash for Real America, a 56-unit complex next to Stubbies that is scheduled for occupation in March;
• and conveyed a lot on Homestead Drive to construct the town’s first Habitat for Humanity home in Basalt. That property was appraised for a market value of $150,000.
The 17 town-owned units have turned into a profit-making venture for Basalt.
“The carrying cost for the units is approximately $100,000 per year, while the income is approximately $250,000 per year,” Mahoney said. “This does not include administrative time spent by town employees to manage the units. It’s very reasonable to say that the town runs this operation in the black.”
Units owned by the town are not solely for town employees, as there is a tiered structure for renting the units.
The first priority is town employees, with no other requirement necessary, Mahoney said, while the other tiers have income restrictions.
“Currently, we have RE1 teachers, a highway patrol officer and Pitkin employees in the units not occupied by town employees,” he said. “Two of the original units at Valley Pines and Lakeside were acquired at the time of development. We purchased one in the Riverside Plaza at the time of construction and purchased the River Loft unit in 2013. The rest of the units were acquired recently in 2015.”
Though there are no more projects that are asking for either direct or indirect funds from Basalt, the town is open to continuing to build relationships with developers looking to add to the affordable-housing pool.
“I think that the town sees the importance of having the people who work in the community also live here,” Mahoney said. “That is a defining component of ‘community.’ People invest in their community beyond just housing. They will invest their time, which is one of our most valuable assets.”
The effect of Basalt’s $186,000 contribution to the Basalt Vista project is palpable. That forgiveness made the project, as it was initially conceived, workable, according to Scott Gilbert, president of Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley.
“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 are available to buyers who make 60 to 80 percent of the area’s median income, while category-two units are aimed at buyers making 81 to 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 purchase a home in Basalt Vista.