The Roaring Fork Valley Housing Authority (RFVRHA) — which does not in fact yet legally exist — has taken a big organizational step by selecting two Front Range companies to jointly conduct a needs assessment that will, upon completion, serve as a foundation for the group’s future existence.

According to Bill Lamont, who, along with Dave Myler, has spent the past year-plus spearheading the effort to get the RFVRHA up and running, a 20-person committee made up of member agencies on Wednesday chose two Front Range firms to work together on the needs analysis: RPC Associates out of Boulder and Economic & Planning Systems (EPS) from Denver.

“The two companies have done a ton of work up here and they have worked on numerous projects together,” Lamont said. “We just had our first phone call with them [Wednesday] and we will firm up the details of the contract next week.”

A request for proposals was sent to 18 firms in September.

At the time, Lamont thought responses would carry a fee in the range of about $65,000 to $100,000, numbers he admits he pulled from thin air.

The joint proposal from RPC and EPS is nudging up toward the top end of that range, though the exact amount won’t be writ in stone til next week.

Lamont said he hopes that the contract will be signed and approved by the RFVRHA’s membership before Christmas, with work beginning by the first of the year.

He said it is too soon to know how long the needs analysis will take. He guessed 6-8 months, as the process will be both extensive and detailed.

Now that a firm figure is available, raising the money to pay for the housing needs analysis gets moved to the front burner.

According to Lamont, the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority has agreed to pony up $25,000. The town governments of Basalt and Carbondale have already agreed to budget funds, though the exact amounts have not yet been determined because, until Wednesday, no one knew what the housing needs analysis would cost.

Lamont said he plans to ask the member entities, who signed an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) last June, to contribute fair shares to the housing needs assessment.

“We are asking the town governments that are members to contribute the same amount as each other and the county members to contribute the same amount as each other,” Lamont said. “That way, we won’t have one entity that put more money in thinking they have a bigger seat at the table.”

According to the IGA, the boundaries of the RFVRHA “would be coterminous with the boundaries of the Aspen School District, the Roaring Fork School District and the town of New Castle, but shall not include the city of Aspen or the town of Snowmass Village, unless said boundaries are modified by the authority.”

Therefore, the member governments would be Garfield County, the parts of Pitkin County that are not Aspen or Snowmass Village, the Roaring Fork Valley part of Eagle County and the towns of Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and New Castle.

“The analysis will be very detailed,” Lamont said in September. “It will examine where people live now, what they pay in rent or mortgage, how many paying adults live in the various household units, what their incomes are, how long they commute, where they work. This will not consist of anecdotal stories about someone’s uncle having to drive three hours to work.”

According to KT Gazunis, executive director of the Garfield County Housing Authority, who is helping the RFVRHA with administrative and secretarial support, “Part of the study will examine commuter traffic all the way to Parachute as well as through the canyon from Eagle and Gypsum. We have about three-quarters of the funds we need committed and we expect some more pledges in place soon.”

“We have proposed a scale where the member counties would provide 15 percent each of the initial budget and each of the towns would provide 13.75 percent, over a three-year period,” Myler said last summer. “It is important to note that would be seed money, and we do not yet know what amount each member would be willing to donate.”

“In the coming weeks and months, Bill and Dave will continue to meet with various local governments and/or major employers about the concept of this new housing authority, which we all see as an ‘over-lay’ authority throughout the region,” Gazunis said. “This is a typical structure. For instance, Garfield County Housing Authority overlays the Rifle and Carbondale housing authorities.”

Once the needs analysis is complete, it would then be used as a marketing tool by which the housing authority could convince the voters living within its boundaries to approve a dedicated tax hike.

“We are legally allowed to ask for a half-percent sales tax increase or a 5-mil property tax increase,” Lamont said in April. “With the power and economy of a taxpayer-funded special district, we will have the ability to leverage $10 million of cash into $200 million of housing.”

If the tax hike is not approved by voters, the housing authority would be dead in its tracks before ever having expedited a single dwelling unit.

“If we do get taxpayer funding, that will give us the opportunity to establish joint ventures,” Myler said last summer. “We could then work with, for instance, the school district, the hospital or the Aspen Ski Corporation on projects.”

As it stands, the only place in the state that has a functional multi-jurisdictional housing authority is Summit County, whose program, started in 2006, was re-authorized last year with more than 77 percent of Summit residents voting in favor of continued funding via 0.125 percent sales tax.

Summit County’s Combined Housing Authority, which includes the county government, as well as the towns of Breckenridge, Frisco, Dillon and Silverthorne has an annual budget of about $1.4 million. It is credited with having constructed 350 housing units in the nation’s busiest ski county.

Last November, Eagle County voters turned down a proposal to fund a Combined Housing Authority that was loosely based upon Summit County’s program. The Eagle County ballot question asked voters to approve the formation of a special taxing district that would have been funded by an increase in sales tax amounting to 3 cents on every $10 purchase, excluding groceries.

It was defeated 65 percent to 35 percent, despite pre-election polling that indicated broad support among the electorate.

The long-term functions and services of the RFVRHA, according to the wording of the IGA signed last June, include:

• Complete a housing needs analysis and adopt a housing production plan based upon such analysis.

• Advise local governments of the practical applications of workforce housing policy and infrastructure needs;

• Propose ballot initiatives;

• Allocate funds for eligible housing projects;

• Facilitate partnerships to create housing;

• Identify and facilitate the acquisition of vacant land that may be developed for affordable housing;

• Identify and coordinate financing opportunities;

• Establish and administer a down payment assistance program;

• Acquire existing housing or other real estate and establish price and income restrictions to assure long-term affordability;

• Acquire land and obtain development approvals. Issue requests for proposals for private sectors and non-profit entity joint ventures to develop authorized housing projects;

• Develop new for-sale or rental affordable housing;

• Rehabilitate existing housing;

• Manage affordable housing properties;

• Construct infrastructure to serve authorized projects.

A request for proposals was sent to 18 firms in September.