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Loomis takes on density critics

The Snyderville Basin Planning Commission’s rejection of the 2010 Affordable Housing Needs Assessment did not change Summit County’s legal obligation to build more moderately priced housing, consultant Scott Loomis told the County Council on Wednesday.

law, the county is required to assess the affordable housing needs of its residents and institute a plan to meet those needs. The current assessment was written in 2006.

The updated assessment compiled in 2010 is methodologically flawed and should be rejected, the Basin Planning Commission concluded in a four-to-two vote last month.

But the 2006 assessment, which is still in effect because of the rejection, calls for the same number of homes to be built as the 2010 one, said Loomis, who is also executive director of the Mountainlands Community Housing Trust.

Criticizing the data and methodology of the 2010 assessment misses the point. The "pent up demand" for affordable housing has not been satisfied since 2006, and is still increasing, he said.

The definition of "pent up demand" was highly criticized by influential Basin residents to the planning commission in April. Different definitions have been used, and that is causing confusion, Loomis agreed.

The definition the county must worry about to meet its legal obligations, he explained, is the number of people earning less than Summit County’s average median household income and spending 30 percent or more of their budget on housing.

These people’s housing expenses are causing their families stress and making it difficult to live here. Both the 2006 and 2010 assessments estimate that number in 2011 to be almost 900 households. The purpose of the state law is to guarantee that no community "prices out" its working class, he said.

That is not the number of people lining up to buy or rent affordable housing units with checks in hand, Loomis clarified. Nor is it the number of units the county is required to have built by a certain deadline. Both the 2006 and controversial 2010 assessments provide a goal the county is supposed to be working toward.

In his work with the Mountainlands Community Housing Trust, Loomis said he’s seen a handful of individuals in recent months able to afford homes in excess of $300,000 but unable to find willing sellers of units they qualify for in the Basin.

"For families at 50 percent of the average median income, there isn’t anything, and hasn’t been for years," he added.

The plan passed in 2006 to satisfy the need is the CORE Rezone a controversial development option that allows builders to create more units on their land than zoning allows if 20 percent of the units are affordable housing. As of this spring, no new units have been built under a CORE Rezone, meaning the county is delinquent on satisfying the needs outlined in the current assessment, said Basin planner Kimber Gabryszak.

In 2007, the former County Commission agreed that one out of every five new homes in the Basin should be affordable. The 2010 needs assessment recommended it be increased to one in every four homes.

The philosophy behind that figure is that for every four or five families moving into the area, there will need to be one more person providing them services one more teacher to educate their kids, peace officer, garbage collector or one more person plowing snow from their street, Gabryszak said.

That estimate is conservative, she added.

Critics of affordable housing in the Basin point to declining home values and cheaper homes on the East Side as evidence the assessments exaggerate the need. But an unstable real estate market cannot be considered an affordable housing plan in compliance with law, Gabryszak said. Compliance includes deed-restricted units.

"This is about providing homes a teacher can afford now, and in 10 years," Loomis added.

And those units cannot be built on the East Side because it is the Basin that is unaffordable, and therefore not in compliance with the state law, he said.

"The idea is not to exclude people from living in your jurisdiction. A study would show the Snyderville Basin is excluding people. The purpose of this plan is to avoid litigation," he said.

A new assessment would cost the county tens of thousands of dollars and would still say the Basin needs more affordable units, he said.

The County Council will not make a decision on whether to accept or reject the 2010 Affordable Housing Needs Assessment for several more weeks.

Council members Chris Robinson, John Hanrahan and Sally Elliott proposed exploring options other than a CORE Rezone to promote the building of affordable housing, such as a housing authority.

County Manager Bob Jasper said he is aware of another ski resort community that operated a housing authority.

"It seems like we should have a discussion of what other tools are available," Robinson said.


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