Viability of housing authority questioned

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Serious questions were raised about the viability of a multijurisdictional housing authority at a Friday meeting attended by elected officials, Regional Affordable Living Foundation board members and government housing specialists.

The possibility that transferring RALF's assets to a multijurisdictional housing authority could jeopardize the beginnings of a self-help housing program was discussed at length.

Questions also were raised about RALF's willingness to relinquish its down payment assistance loan programs and Hillside Village Apart-ments, a rental complex that RALF manages.

RALF is fostering the Mutual Self-Help Housing Program, which will allow seven families making less than 80 percent of the median county income to help each other build homes. RALF is working toward a second grant to get the program going and hopes to start building this fall.

The federal self-help program is designed to be completely funded through grants, but Craig Nielson, who works with the Rural Community Assistance Corporation, said grants usually cover about 80 percent of the costs. Nielson also said if the self-help housing program switches hands from RALF to a housing authority, the federal rural development program would be hesitant to give funding.

"It would be a mistake to have both entities with fingers in the pie. I don't think rural development at the state level would be comfortable with that," Nielson said.

RALF President Karen Beauvais said she is not sure if a multijurisdictional housing authority is needed at a time when voters are not likely to support a tax for affordable housing.

"I can't put my finger on why we need a multijurisdictional housing authority. We don't have anything to pass a tax for; we don't have a West of Steamboat Area Plan (working). I don't see the benefit of a (multijurisdictional housing authority) for our county right now," she said.

If RALF wants to keep its assets, Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said she is not sure whether the community could support a housing authority.

"If RALF keeps its assets, I don't care which way we go, I don't feel we have room for two organizations," Stahoviak said. "I am willing to walk away from the (multijurisdictional housing authority) today if RALF wants to stay in place."

Stahoviak, who also sits on the RALF board, said she always believed the board was willing to turn over its assets and that the city and county were following the recommendations of the RALF Board and Two Plus Housing Committee in going forward with a housing authority.

The ability to tax is the major incentive for the county and city to form a regional multijurisdictional housing authority. In previous discussions between the two entities, elected officials have said they should first form a housing authority, build voters' trust and then ask for a tax to help fund affordable housing.

Bill Whaley, a housing development specialist from the state's Department of Local Affairs, warned the city and county should look beyond getting a self-help housing program up and running.

"Self-help housing is not going to solve all the problems. Don't throw away the tools you might use (from a multijurisdictional housing authority) for self-help housing. I think that is going to be a mistake," he said.

The participants discussed creating a housing authority and keeping the self-help housing program separate but rolling over RALF's assets.

Regardless of whether a housing authority falls into place, more staffing will be needed to run the self-help housing program, participants in Friday's meeting agreed. The self-help housing program will need three full-time employees, Nielson said. Once the grant is secured, they have two years to build the houses.

The housing authority steering committee will present its recommendations for a formation of a housing authority. But before that happens, Stahoviak said she wants to know if RALF is willing to turn over its assets.

The RALF board will meet Thursday.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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