Self-help housing proposed for Hilltop

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— Ellen Hoj is proposing to build as many as 33 self-help affordable housing units on Hilltop Parkway. But the timing is very tight, and she needs significant concessions from the city of Steamboat Springs to get it done.

Hoj is the program manager for the "Hands-on Housing Project" being undertaken by the Regional Affordable Living Foundation. Her organization has the first of seven self-help units under way in West End Village. Families will have sweat-equity in their new homes the day they move in because they will have put in hundreds of hours on the job site.

The Hilltop proposal, Fox Creek Village, is intended to fulfill the terms of a nearly $390,000 federal grant. The U.S. Department of Agriculture grant requires RALF to complete another 17 affordable units, in addition to the seven under way, by October 2005.

Hoj has a piece of land on Hilltop Parkway that she believes could accommodate 33 small townhomes.

The goal is to make them affordable for families earning between 50 percent and 80 percent of the local median income. That translates into families of two (larger families also are eligible), which make between $26,200 and $42,000. They would have to qualify for a loan that would allow them to buy townhomes of 900 to 1,250 square feet for about $120,000.

To make the numbers work, couples must be willing to pick up hammer and saw and literally frame and roof their own townhomes.

Hoj is seeking financial help from the city in the form of substantial waived fees. She also is asking for an expedited planning process to help her deliver the finished homes within the time frame demanded by the federal grant.

"We must complete the infrastructure by late spring and pull building permits (for the first seven of 17 units) by next summer," Hoj wrote in a memo to planning staff. "This means all approvals must be complete six months from application. I know this can be done if everything goes perfectly."

Hoj has calculated that she can deliver the townhomes with raw land costs of just $16,000 based on her desire for 33 units. The land is owned by Michael Lavery. Hoj said Lavery gave her a deal on the land but has a second contract waiting on the land should she be unable to close by June.

Essentially, the only collateral RALF can offer to secure the purchase would be an approved project from the city. Each of the individual townhome owners would have to qualify for their own mortgage if the project is to succeed.

To get the finished product within USDA guidelines, she is asking the city and regional building department to waive fees that could add up to $15,000 per unit. They include development fees, use tax (on building materials), water and sewer tap fees and building permit fees.

"It will be very difficult if I don't get substantial waivers," Hoj said.

In addition, she is asking city planning staff not to ask for subdivision amenities such as heavy landscaping and interior trail conditions.

"Any additions to the development costs, such as additional landscaping, affects several loan documents specifically to each individual low-income buyer," she wrote.

However, city planner Brian Bavosi, said the project's location along a collector road, which is designed to carry traffic beyond what a typical subdivision road might carry, typically requires higher standards.

"Because the site planning standards of the community development code require orientation to the street, staff believes more architectural features on buildings are necessary to create a façade along Hilltop Parkway. Decks, balconies, patios and (windows and doors) must be considered in order to provide a superior product along a collector road," Bavosi wrote in a memo on the project.

One possibility for resolving issues that could make the project more expensive, Hoj said, is to set aside a certain number of the final 16 of 33 townhomes to be sold at market rates. That would generate profits to offset the cost of trails and additional landscaping, for example. However, Hoj said she would hate to see affordable units subtracted from the project.

Hoj said her research has shown that there are very few "infill" parcels within the existing city limits that could accommodate a USDA project.

Ironically, the federal government has high standards regarding building sites for low-income families, Hoj said. Issues such as a building site's proximity to high-voltage power lines, railroad tracks and wetlands can eliminate a site from the federal granting process. Coincidentally, many of the eligible sites in the city are close to power lines, wetlands and railroad tracks.

"These may be the last 17 units we can fund," Hoj said. "Isn't it worth some concessions?"

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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