The town of Carbondale is putting its first-ever affordable housing plan into action following a board of trustees meeting on Oct. 3, in which trustees agreed on goals and strategies to achieve them.
Town Trustee Colin Laird spelled out the need in a “revised community housing plan” he submitted to his colleagues on Sept. 29: “Roaring Fork Regional Housing Study, a quick survey of the Aspen Glenwood Springs MLS, illustrates the housing-affordability challenge in Carbondale. There are currently over 100 homes listed for sale in Carbondale, but only six units for sale are listed at under $1 million. [The] price range for these units is … from $565,000 to $875,000.”
Nearly 20 years ago, the town adopted an inclusionary housing ordinance that requires any development with over five units to be deed-restricted, and in 2016, the town also finalized the unified development code to mitigate the impacts of free-market residential development on the community and the land. Until now, those were the only guidelines that Carbondale had in terms of affordable housing, and they had no specific goals or action steps.
“Housing has been a priority for the town of Carbondale for a long time, and we had just one strategy in place — and that’s the inclusionary housing ordinance — but now we’re looking at, what else can we do?” said Carbondale Mayor Ben Bohmfalk. “We’ve never said, ‘Here’s our goal, here’s how many units we need.’ … Now we’re just going to start chipping away at those.”
Laird's affordable housing plan also outlines the town’s goal — to double the current number of 144 town-owned, deed-restricted, rental-capped units in town by 2032 — and a number of strategies to help the town get there. Laird said that relying on the inclusionary housing ordinance has not been adequate, and in the midst of personnel shortages at the town, he volunteered to create a plan pulled from inspiration in other communities in a Carbondale context to move things forward.
“One of the reasons I wanted to get on the board was to codify what we’re doing and think of all the ways we’re approaching our affordable housing efforts,” he said. “I certainly didn’t want to wait until we had the capacity. I wanted to move things forward so we could take advantage of the timing.”
Some of the strategies are to develop the Town Center Project and ensure that affordable housing is a component, create a buy-down system and to ask voters to approve a 6% tax on short-term rentals in next month’s election.
“It’s a good time to be creative,” Bohmfalk said. “We also have some funding. We put some money from our general fund into the housing fund every year, so we’ve got $1 million in an account waiting to be spent. That’s more than Carbondale’s ever spent.”
Bohmfalk added that the 6% STR tax may not bring in enough revenue to make much of a change in Carbondale’s abilities, and that’s why the town is being conservative with its estimates of how much revenue the tax will contribute, but it will be the town’s first ever dedicated source for affordable housing, so he hopes to see it approved by voters.
Several of the strategies included in the plan — such as buy-downs and examining the local area median income — are steps that municipalities and housing authorities around the region are exploring. Bohmfalk said that Carbondale has been studying what’s being done in Basalt and the Eagle Valley and trying to learn from its neighbors. Up-valley, the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority’s board of directors has held several discussions about adjusting its AMI as residents struggle to balance inflation with qualifying for housing.
“Upvalley they have 3,000 units and we have a couple hundred, so it’s a different scale,” Bohmfalk said. APCHA’s total inventory last quarter was 3,127 units. “Sometimes people think, ‘What did we do wrong that led to this?’ And it’s none of the things that we did. Interest rates are going up, so that’ll soften things a little, but it’s been crazy for a couple of years.”
Laird said he hopes that the town will have a complete plan in place by the end of the year for the board of trustees to adopt so that the ball can get rolling. This fall and going into winter and spring, the town will begin ticking items off its new to-do list. In addition to the buy-downs, STR tax ballot question and the Town Center Project development, the town will also look to increase inclusionary zoning to 25% of residential units and in new developments of five or more, and continue to encourage nonprofit organizations and public entity partners to convert existing housing and/or build new affordable housing options for their workforces and the general public.
“This is a really challenging issue and it’s something we’re going to have to be working on for a number of years,” Laird said. “It might take a while to show some significant progress, but we’re trying to get things in place so we can move quickly.”
The draft of the plan that was presented to the board of trustees on Oct. 3 can be viewed online under the board’s agenda minutes and packets tab at carbondalegov.org.
By: Megan Webber I Aspen Daily News I October 2022