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Housing forum keynote speaker shares affordable project experience





Jim DeFrancia, a principal and co-owner of Lowe Enterprises, speaks to a group Friday during the Welcome Home Steamboat housing forum at Citizen's Hall. DeFrancia was addressing the audience as the noon time speaker and has worked as a developer in other mountain communities.
John F. Russell

— The challenge of providing affordable or workforce housing isn't unique to resort communities or Colorado, said James DeFrancia, the keynote speaker of Friday's housing forum at Citizen's Hall, but a smaller employment and tax base could mean greater struggles for a municipality the size of Steamboat Springs.

DeFrancia is principal and co-owner of Lowe Enterprises, a nationwide development firm, and a trustee of the Urban Land Institute. In addition to being a highly sought after speaker, he soon will be a full-time resident of Steamboat Springs.

Jim DeFrancia, a principal and co-owner of Lowe Enterprises, speaks to a group Friday during the Welcome Home Steamboat housing forum at Citizen's Hall.John F. Russell

DeFrancia was a longtime resident of Aspen, which has a much longer history of affordable housing initiatives than Steamboat, and on Friday he shared what he learned from those experiences.

Aspen has faced challenges with affordable housing meant for ownership not being returned to the pool for qualified workers, either because of aging residents not being able to accumulate enough equity to buy somewhere else or because of units being rented contrary to deed restrictions.

For the first issue, the character of the restrictions on the housing is partly to blame, DeFrancia said, while for the second issue, stronger administrative control is needed to enforce restrictions.

Affordable development in Aspen also has suffered from a lack of homebuyer education in the past, he said, leading to homeowners associations that were unprepared for major, capital-intensive projects and have come back to the city for help.

DeFrancia laid out some tenets to keep in mind when planning for affordable housing.

"Have a good grip on how big the problem is," he said.

Taking into account growth patterns, DeFrancia said, look at how diverse the community and employment bases are.

Ancillary issues like transportation are an important piece of the puzzle, as an expanded system can fix a lot of housing issues, DeFrancia said. Residents also need access to services in addition to transportation between home and work.

"People make choices on housing on more than just price," DeFrancia said.

DeFrancia said public-private partnerships are "clear and away" the best way to get affordable housing projects done.

Government can provide land, entitlements and infrastructure, he said, and the private sector can provide the product and imagination.

There are lots of tools available for affordable projects, and there's clearly the potential for a quality product, DeFrancia said.

When people object to the idea of affordable housing near their own property because of preconceived notions, that's an education issue, DeFrancia said.

"You can produce a lot of good quality, sound-character housing," he said.

Resorts can be communities or just activity venues, DeFrancia said. People choose to visit communities for more than the recreational activities available, it's a comprehensive experience.

"Community requires a sense of place," DeFrancia said. And a sense of place requires a diversity of people and housing types.”

To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206, email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @MLSchrantz