The Regional Affordable Living Foundation has set its excise tax threshold dangerously low, in our opinion. As a way to raise money to buy land upon which affordable homes could be built, RALF is proposing to ask voters to approve an excise tax that would be attached to the square footage of new construction. To protect smaller (read: more affordable) homes, RALF leaders have decided to omit homes below a certain size: 1,300 square feet.
We believe that level is too low.
This newspaper has made clear its support for affordable housing. The need is real and we should work hard to find solutions so we can keep workers and young families here and protect the very fabric of this community. We support RALF in general and have applauded the noble efforts of its executive director and volunteer board. We also support the idea of an excise tax. Real estate speculation and development are the driving forces behind soaring housing prices most local workers cannot dream of paying without a winning lottery ticket.
But we cannot support an excise tax that could weigh so heavily on the wallets of the same people RALF is working to help.
Under RALF's current proposal, new homes larger than 1,300 square feet would be taxed on a graduated scale. For example, homes between 1,301 and 2,000 square feet would be taxed at $1 per square foot. That means a 1,400-square-foot home would come with an extra $1,400 tax bill.
The irony is a 1,400-square-foot home would likely be an "affordable" size, and yet RALF proposes to increase its price so that other affordable houses can be built. It doesn't make sense to us.
During a quick search of the Routt County Clerk and Recorder's Web site (www.co.routt.co.us) we were unable to find a 1,300-square-foot single-family home selling for less than $250,000 not including mobile homes. Those we found plenty of. Our search also revealed three duplexes and 10 townhomes meeting our criteria 1,300 square feet or smaller, selling for $250,000 or less. What our search told us is that local wage-earners are having to buy or build if they can homes bigger than 1,300 square feet, and yet that is RALF's threshold.
We don't believe that an affordable housing effort should be a charity program for the working class. In fact, we advocate serious investment in money or labor or both by those who would stand to benefit from the effort. But we don't advocate taxing the working class to pay for an affordable housing program. Why would we push them down with one hand and reach out with the other to help?
The threshold should be at least 2,000 square feet. We know RALF would lose some revenue by cutting out smaller homes, but we fear not doing so would mean the excise tax would never make it out of the 4-square-foot ballot box in November.