Categories
op-ed vol1:2

Sin Fronteras/ENTERATE

There is a divide in Telluride between our endearingly funky, ostensibly inclusive (though statistically homogeneous) community and what is often distinguished as the Latino Community.  This is not news and it is not unique, but we at the Independent have realized that we have to begin to address it in order to do our job effectively.  When we have tried to assign stories that might touch our latino neighbors in Telluride and in other mountain towns, we’ve tended to founder: the journalists in our region do not tend to speak Spanish and they do not tend to be connected to many Spanish speakers.  So, we’re launching an experiment to bridge the divide by starting a small-scale Spanish-language newspaper that will draw on community reporters.

 

In the short term, this is likely to take the form of a single, double-sided sheet of paper filled with stories that are more personal narrative and opinion than hard news.  We’re going to print it on our office inkjet and distribute it as often as we can to a few central locations.  But our goal is to build a roster of consistent contributors who are interested in telling the stories that are critical to the latino community for the latino community.  As the publication develops though, we plan to have content cross between the Mountain Independent and it’s Spanish counterpart.  If this model proves successful, we will work to expand, testing Spanish papers in other mountain towns.

 

For now though, our most important function is to provide a framework that allows new journalists to emerge and helps them grow.  We’re partnering with the Tri-County Health Network’s Community Outreach director, Kody Gerkin, to organize story jam events to help craft and record the narratives of those have never written before. A local hiker hopes to write the first trail guides in Spanish, encouraging his neighbors to get out in the woods to experience the beauty that he’s come to love since moving here from Guatemala.  We’ll see what else comes in and work to craft it into the strongest pieces possible.  We’ve solicited names from community members – Sin Fonteras and ENTÉRATE – and will leave the decision up to a vote.

 

If you have any insight or advice, or if you want to help, don’t hesitate to reach out to alec@mountainindependent.org.

 

And if you want to support the effort, click on the donate button and let us know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Audio vol1:2

Tales From the Green Belt: A Conversation with Paul Danish

JT Thomas has a conversation with Paul Danish, sponsor of Boulder’s groundbreaking open space policies.

 

LISTEN:

 

Categories
Community Economy Report vol1:2

Housing Data

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Though many communities lack affordable housing, the specific dynamics of each region and market are unique. So, we’ve pulled together a set of data points to help compare one mountain town to another. Median income is for a family of four and is extracted from the Department of Housing and Urban Development at a county level. Statistics describing the number of affordable units constructed, estimated need, and target housing levels are taken from town and county reports produced by each community. And the median home price data are extracted from Zillow’s recent sales data.

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Aspen


Workforce housing units built/incentivized: 2,956

Most recent Assessed Need gap: 657 in 2012

Percent local occuancy: 47% of Pitkin County workers were living in Pitkin County in 2012

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Jackson


Workforce housing units built/incentivized: 1,468

Most recent Assessed Need gap: 280 units/year

Percent local target: 65%

Percent local occuancy: 58% county-wide – or 67%

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Telluride


Workforce housing units built/incentivized: 1,148 San Miguel County

Most recent Assessed Need gap: 38-239 units in Telluride by 2015

Percent local target: 60-70%

Percent local occuancy: 53% local in 2011

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Truckee


Workforce housing units built/incentivized: 474 – Jan. 2016

Most recent Assessed Need gap: 12,160

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Mammoth


Workforce housing units built/incentivized: 202

Most recent Assessed Need gap: 330 now, +595 by 2022 – end of 2017

Percent local occuancy: 34% in 2015

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Vail


Most recent Assessed Need gap: 4,466 in 2015, 11,960 by 2025

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Sun Valley


Workforce housing units built/incentivized: 369 in 2011

Most recent Assessed Need gap: 480 in 2011

Percent local occuancy: 38% in 2011

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Boulder


Workforce housing units built/incentivized: 3,237 in 2015

Most recent Assessed Need gap: 1,263

Percent local target: 10% affordable (4,500 units)

Percent local occuancy: 7.2% in 2015

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Crested Butte


Workforce housing units built/incentivized: 443 in the Gunnison Valley

Most recent Assessed Need gap: 960 by 2020

Percent local target: 25% housed in CB by 2025

Percent local occuancy: 67.8% in 2016 in CB; 26.5% in Mt. CB

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Median Income by County

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[wpdatachart id=6]

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Income Vs Home Price

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Categories
op-ed vol1:2

A Fact-based Immigration Policy

Illustration by Stephen Rockwood
Illustration by Stephen Rockwood

The immigration debate has divide America and paralyzed our Congress for decades, never more egregiously than in the last two years. Driven by passions more than thoughtful analysis, far more heat than light has been generated on the subject, with the sad result that the true interests of the nation have been all but lost in an endless fog of misinformation and xenophobic demagoguery.

 

The presence of millions of people in the United States who entered the country illegally is a serious national issue that requires a comprehensive and just solution. The security of our borders is vitally important to the safety and well-being of our nation and its people, and one of the duties of our government is to secure our borders against people who reject our values and intend us harm. As to these facts, there is virtually unanimous agreement in the country, irrespective of political label or party.

 

Immigration policy, like all policies of national importance, should be based on facts, informed debate, and rational and fair consideration of all the competing interests involved, including, of course, the national interest. In an effort to give more than lip service to the proposition that “FACTS MATTER,” here are some facts about immigration in this country.

  • The National Academy of Sciences estimates that the average immigrant contributes, in net present value terms, at least $92,000 more in taxes than he or she receives in benefits over their lifetime.
  • In 2013, 29% of all research doctorates in science, engineering and health were awarded to immigrants, and an astonishing 48% of all PhD’s in computer science and mathematics were awarded to immigrants.
  • According to the National Foundation for American Policy, in the last seventeen years, immigrants have won 39% (33 of 85) of the Nobel Prizes awarded to “Americans” in Chemistry, Medicine and Physics. All six of the U.S. Nobel Prize winners in 2016 were immigrants, and of the ten Nobel laureates in the last two years who live and work in the U.S., only one was born in the United States.
  • Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans, and overall crime rates are lower in areas where immigrants live. A Cato Institute study released in March of last year found that, relative to their percentage of the population, the incarceration rates of immigrants, including unauthorized immigrants, are less than those of native-born Americans. The so-called “Dreamers” (people illegally brought into the U.S. as children who have lived here all their lives) have the lowest crime rates of all – only one quarter of one percent have ever been convicted of any crime.
  • Since June 2008, more Mexicans have left the U.S. to return to Mexico than have come to the United States. From 2009 to 2014, more than a million Mexicans and their families left the U.S. for Mexico, most of them of their own accord.
  • 42% of the approximately 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. didn’t sneak across the border, they overstayed their visas.

 

Notwithstanding these facts, President Trump and others continue to demagogue and distort the immigration issue by demonizing immigrants and mischaracterizing their contributions and role in American society. The President continues to insist on building a wall on our southern border that has little, if any, practical justification, and that will cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars. His latest “take-it-or-leave-it” immigration proposal to Congress calls for, among other demands, creation of a $25 billion trust fund to pay for a wall that is more political monument and symbol than anything else.

 

The President’s current proposal also calls for cuts in legal immigration approaching 50%, which Joel Prakken, Co-Founder of Macroeconomic Advisers, estimates would reduce the rate of U.S. economic growth by about 12.5% from currently projected levels. As David Bier and Stuart Anderson of the Cato Institute have pointed out, this problem worsens as the U.S. population ages and we need more immigrants in the U.S. labor force to maintain our economic growth.

 

In the face of these realities, Trump persists in seeking to cut legal immigration even more. He wants to end the Diversity Visa Program, which allows 50,000 permanent resident visas each year to people from countries that are underrepresented in the U.S. More significantly, he seeks to prevent citizens and lawful permanent residents from sponsoring their parents and siblings for immigration consideration.

 

The protection, education and support of American workers and their families has historically been, and always should be, one of our nation’s highest priorities, but we should not view the future as a zero sum game. Since the earliest days of our country, immigrants have benefitted our nation with their work ethic, their skills, their cultural diversity, their ambition, and their dedication to the idea of America and the principles and values it has always embodied. We can, and should, in the nation’s interest as well as our own, make room for people from other countries who aspire to and cherish the American dream and who bring to our shores a constant flow of new ideas, new perspectives and new energy.

 

For a change, why don’t we approach the issues, challenges and opportunities of immigration policy with open minds and hearts, common sense, informed self-interest, and an abiding appreciation for the value of facts. Who knows what we might come up with?

Categories
Community Economy Report vol1:2

Escaping the Crunch: Ogden, Utah

Old victorian houses on Jefferson Blvd in Ogden, Utah.

[blockquote3]Ogden, Utah is not the typical mountain town, which is exactly why it might be the next best adventure hub.[/blockquote3]

 

“I get a little bit of attitude from my ski town friends,” says Nicole Pelletier, a 45-year-old ski coach based in Ogden, Utah. “There’s always that, ‘you’re living where?’ I always say it’s the smelling-dog-poo-on-your-upper-lip face.”

 

Pelletier is a product of Western mountain town culture. Born and raised in Aspen in the 1970s, she spent her adult years bouncing around elite resort towns of the Intermountain West, always struggling to make ends meet in places where the housing costs out-paced wages. Three years ago, when she finally felt secure enough to plant roots, she did so in Ogden. It wasn’t the Alpine idyll she had been chasing for two and a half decades, but it offered the trifecta of attributes people often say they look for in a western mountain community: accessibility, diversity, and affordability.

 

Snowbasin and Powder Mountain are both within 30 minutes, and the top of Snowbasin looks directly down into Ogden. There are rivers, canyons, biking and hiking trails, and countless acres of public land within or adjacent to the city limits. It offers a diverse economy featuring military, manufacturing, higher education, and outdoor recreation. The demographic is both racially and socio-economically mixed. Most of all, though, it’s affordable. Even as housing values surge across the Wasatch front, Ogden’s median home price is still only about $180,000. And yet it’s treated as a pariah by many from more exclusive locales.

 

The common refrain is that regular people are being priced out of adventure towns. While it’s true that the billionaires are driving the millionaires out of places like Jackson Hole, Aspen, and Sun Valley—all places Pelletier has called home—the existence of Ogden highlights that there are options for people who want an affordable living situation and access to mountain recreation. Or, to put it bluntly, it’s not necessarily the skiing and the outdoors that we are being priced out of, but rather elitist towns featuring the same economic barriers that have long kept coastal communities such as Laguna Beach, California or Greenwich, Connecticut unobtainable.

 

Historically, Ogden was a bastion of wealth in its own right, with more millionaires per capita than any other city in the country in the early 1900s. At the time, then called Junction City, it was a railroad hub that linked America’s heartland with the rest of the world. But then came the interstate highway system, the diesel locomotive, the airline industry—all of which changed how we ship our goods and move about the country. Eventually even the tracks were rerouted through Salt Lake City, and Ogden’s relevance evaporated.

 

A row of houses on the East Bench in Ogden, Utah

 

The city floundered through the 70s, 80s, and 90s. But then, following the success of the 2002 Olympics (Ogden hosted the curling events, and the skiing downhill and super-G were at Snowbasin), community leaders realized the area had something unique to offer: access to the outdoors. Rather than build another mall or convention center, they decided to attach their future to outdoor recreation. “We needed to capitalize on things that nobody could duplicate,” says current mayor Mike Caldwell who worked for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee in 2002. “It’s these natural assets.”

 

In the 16 years since the 2002 games, Ogden has added approximately 18,000 jobs, according to Caldwell. Though he estimates that only 10% of those come directly from outdoor recreation, he says that Ogden’s reputation as an outdoor hub has given the city a new identity and helped attract other companies to the city. “It’s not about wages. It’s about lifestyle now, and affordability,” Caldwell says. “We can provide that in ways that other communities [can’t]. The outdoor industry has really validated that selling point”

 

Many of Ogden’s long-blighted neighborhoods are now seeing a renaissance. Neighborhoods that were 70-percent rentals for decades are becoming more owner-occupied. “Having a constant turn over in rentals destabilizes neighborhoods,” says Caldwell. “We’ve had a lot of people come in, buy some of these old, little urban homes, put sweat equity into them, and drop roots. It’s really stabilized a lot of our neighborhoods.”

 

Neighborhoods like Pelletier’s. In the three years she has lived there, she has seen the area evolve. “I’m seeing a lot more young families move in that are homeowners,” she says. “There’s that pride of ownership, and it’s showing in the way the neighborhood is tightening up.”

 

Pelletier has lived the mountain-town housing crunch. She was the youngest of five kids raised in Aspen in the 70s, all of whom were ski racers. Her father worked on ski patrol and built houses, and the family ran a restaurant at the base of Tiehack lift. They were able to afford a house down valley in Emma, and in the winter would live in an apartment below the restaurant to be close to the slopes. “It was like living on a ship,” Pelletier says. “There were five of us kids. We had a hallway that my dad built out with six bunk beds. Our only private space was a bunk bed in a hallway with this long pipe that was all our hanging stuff. You had, like, your five feet and you had your one drawer. The trade-off was we could step out the door and go ski.”

 

When she was in her teens, her family moved to Hood River, Oregon—just in time to see that town boom. Over the next 25 years, she bounced from one high-rent adventure hub to another. When she finally saved enough to consider buying a place, Pelletier wanted to go back to Sun Valley, but the best she could do was a studio apart or small condo.

 

Instead, she compromised and landed in Ogden. “It hasn’t been easy,” she admits. “On one end, it definitely took a financial monkey off my back. The livability of Ogden is awesome. What I feel I’ve given up, is that I don’t feel like I have a really concentrated sense of tribe here.”

 

Pelletier likens her neighborhood to some of the grittier sections of Bend before that town boomed. “I’ve talked to people that were in Bend in the early years,” she says. “And it used to be like that in parts of Bend, where it was really sketchy. Now that place is untouchable.” A house on her street that she looked at for $65,000 just three years ago Pelletier says recently sold for $175,000. “From what I’ve witnessed in that short period of time, I think it’s only going to get better,” she says.

 

Which begs the question: is Ogden merely on track to be the next place regular people get priced out of? Neither Pelletier or Mayor Caldwell see that as a risk.

 

“One of the things we’ve focused on that targets directly affordable housing options, is we’ve put a lot more density in our downtown,” Caldwell says. “We’ve had almost 1200 units that either have been constructed or are in the process of construction just in that downtown core.”

 

A skier hikes for fresh turns at Snowbasin, outside of Ogden, Utah

 
Due to geography, population, and relative proximity to the state capital, Ogden often draws comparisons to Boulder, Colorado, where housing is 400-percent more expensive. Caldwell, however, likens it more to Pittsburgh, a place built on a hardcore blue collar economy that went belly-up when its anchor industry left. Because Ogden’s housing infrastructure is still in place from its boom era, the city has been able to grow in a way that’s less exclusive than similarly sized mountain communities.

 

“Our housing stock was really built out in the 1930s,” says Caldwell. “Those older homes sometimes just don’t appeal to that real higher profile buyer. A lot of those older places, a lot of the spaces we’re creating right now, really appeal to artistically minded people. That’s the market I think we’ve seen the most growth in, the art and culture groups. Not necessarily the second home owners who are just looking to put an exclusive title on their business card or mailing address.”

 

As someone who’s seen hometown after hometown blow up, that’s fine with Pelletier. “It’s like a secret surf spot,” she says. “You don’t want to over share, but at the same time you’re, like, proud.”

Categories
Community Economy Environment Report vol1:2

A Blessing and A Curse: Boulder’s Groundbreaking Open Space Policies

[blockquote3]The unintended consequences of Boulder’s groundbreaking open space policies[/blockquote3]

 

For the past half-century, Oakleigh Thorne has stared up at the iconic Flatirons — the three slabs of 1,000-foot rock that jut crooked-tooth-like across Boulder, Colorado’s western skyline — and he’s felt a stab of swelling pride.

 

As he should. Fifty years ago, Oak (as he likes to be called) won big by spearheading the citizen-led team that established Boulder’s “Greenbelt” — the swath of protected Open Space and Mountain Parks land that rings the city like a thick golden-green moat. Oak had even bought and then sold a parcel of land to the City to ensure the belt would close full-circle.

 

In his eyes, there was no way of knowing what that the seemingly progressive conservation methods he helped employ would do to the social and economic fabric of the community he loved decades later.

 

It was to keep the city from spilling out over the landscape,” he explains. Homemaking and protecting were fresh on Oak’s mind when he moved from the Northeast to pursue a zoology Ph.D at the University of Colorado Boulder. His thesis led him on walks along Boulder Creek, catching and breeding white-footed mice to study their nesting habits. With his hands among the dried leaves and roots of Boulder’s earth on a near-daily basis, he grew intimately familiar with the varied ecosystems that stretch across valley.

 

In the mid 1950s, during a post-WWII population surge that threatened the quaintness of the mountain town, Oak joined forces with with two CU Boulder professors and a handful of other young professionals to take action. As Oak recalls, they were asking the question: “What are we going to do to prevent the backdrop of Boulder from being developed?”

 

Hotels, they feared, would sprout along the mesas at the base of the Flatirons. Plans for a large church atop the southern sloping hill were already in the works. Developers and their gangly apartment complexes threatened the mountain views. The white rock formations out east needed safeguarding.

 

So, Oak helped the City buy up every square inch of the land surrounding Boulder and swear to its protection.

 

Around the same time, Oak lived with his family near downtown Boulder. In the mornings, the kids walked to Lincoln Elementary School. The mountains, just a glance away, kept watch over the city. The railroad tracks, Oak recalls, ran a block down from school, along Water Street; he remembers the small houses that lined it, the freight yard and the depot, the makeup of the elementary school — “It was a wonderfully integrated school. … There were a lot of Latino and African American families … Asian families, too.” He chuckles, remembering the school once asked his daughter to join a program because “they needed more white kids.”

 

While the rest of town ambled throughout the day, Oak turned to the CU professors, eager to help them answer their question. Leading up to 1959, he campaigned for one of their ideas — the “Blue Line,” a boundary mark that limited municipal water distribution above 5,750 feet, effectively preventing any buildings from taking root at the base of the Flatirons.

 

Then, in 1967, when citizens approved another of Oak’s missions — the “open space sales tax” — Boulder became the first U.S. municipality to tax themselves for the specific purpose of purchasing and preserving open space. It was with these funds that Boulder bought most of the Greenbelt that now rings the city.

 

Four years later, plans for a 17-story building threatened downtown, and the citizens led another mission to limit the height of buildings to 55 feet which is approximately the hight of the mature cottonwood trees common around the city.

 

Today, the height ordinance remains and the open space surrounding Boulder firmly stakes its city limits, preventing both outward sprawl and the encroachment of neighboring communities. No development is allowed on the protected land, which now exceeds 45,000 acres and houses more than 150 miles of maintained recreational and commuter trails. The quick access to greenery from any point in the city, coupled with the unobstructed mountain views, is, in large part, what makes Boulder Boulder; “No buildings [beyond city limits], that’s the nice thing,” Oak considers.

 

“I feel very proud of what we did,” he says with the reverence of a grandfather.

 

But then, within a matter of years of protecting that open space, development took an unexpected turn. The city stripped the railroad tracks, Water Street turned to Canyon Boulevard, the freight depot became a library, the neighborhood houses dissolved, apartments shot up, the college population doubled, and one side effect of Oak’s hard work, one that he never thought to consider, manifested right before his eyes.

 

When we passed the Greenbelt, and got the open space, and made Boulder so attractive, it started to shoot up the [cost of living],” he says somberly. People who could not afford the new apartments, those who had been living near the railroad tracks and attending school with his children, eventually left. “That’s the one thing we did not anticipate … It literally drove out that diversity that we had. That was one of the negative aspects of the Greenbelt and open space.”

 

Allyn Feinberg — who grew up in Boulder and now serves as co-chair of People’s League for Action Now (PLAN-Boulder County), a citizen advocacy group that formed early in the lobbying process for the Blue Line — says, “Really, the affordability of housing wasn’t on the radar screen of the City’s fathers.”

 

In the 50s and 60s, when Colorado’s Front Range was still predominantly rural, Boulder County was all about growth, she explains. The mentality was: “How can we get more business to locate here?” Attracting innovation, accruing sales tax, and carving a name on the national stage were Boulder’s top priorities.

 

A lot changed. Between 1950 and 1970, the population ballooned from 20,000 to 72,000; a turnpike was built, and academic and business expansions fleshed out the city’s innards. A steady influx of people were welcomed (mostly professional and white; Boulder’s population is now 90% Caucasian, according to the U.S. Census Bureau). Yet some things stayed the same. Term after term, citizens continuously voted to extend the open space sales tax and height-limit ordinances.

 

It was in the latter part of this era that Boulder’s first need for affordable housing surfaced.

 

Constrained laterally by the Greenbelt and vertically by the height ordinance, Boulder initiated a period of housing infill and re-use of present development to fit the newcomers in town. But when growth didn’t slow, subdivision construction began.

 

Thousands of building permits were issued in the mid-1970s before the Danish Plan, another citizen-led initiative intending to mitigate population and new building growth — “One of the first, and most widely emulated community growth management plans in the country,” according to the advocacy group Livable Boulder — limited new building permits to a 2 percent growth factor per year.

 

In 2000, the City published its first affordable housing goal: 10 percent of Boulder dwellings affordable for low/moderate- and middle-income households. By 2010, however, the City had only achieved 67 percent of the low and moderate income homes, which included shelter beds, and only 22 percent of the goal for middle-income households. In 2011, a task force convened to examine the situation. The group agreed to extend this 10 percent goal, but there were some who wouldn’t fully endorse it without including a provision restricting expansion of the current growth area surrounding Boulder.

 

Today, as the American Community Survey reports, the median household income for the Boulder metro area hovers around $75,000. That’s about $9,000 higher than the median Colorado household income, and nearly $17,000 greater than the U.S. median household income, indicating by some measures that the real estate bubble created by Boulder’s three-dimensional development restrictions has contributed to the influx of the wealthy and the outflux of others.

 

Between July 2015 and July 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau noted Boulder County gained 10 new residents a day, and according to the Boulder Affordable Housing Research Initiative, “home-ownership is out of the question for over 40% of Boulder’s residents.” There were two months in 2017 when the average single-family home sale price topped $1 million. Thus, more than 60,000 people who work in the city now commute from elsewhere each day.

 

Given current policies, Boulder is projected to reach residential and non-residential zoning capacity by 2080, according to city officials.

 

Allyn says as soon as the city identified a problem, they dutifully initiated policies and funding that were dedicated to affordable housing for low and moderate income residents. But many might argue it hasn’t been enough. “I would say we’re just like everybody else who has a booming job and real estate economy,” Allyn says. “The people who are in the service industry are getting pushed out of town; it’s that simple. And it is difficult to deal with.”

 

In short, she says, “I’m not sure there’s a … development that would’ve changed things much.”

 

The displacement of the workforce and the surge of wealth begs the question: do environmental values in Boulder trump community values like diversity and affordability?

 

Shae Frydenlund doesn’t believe for a second that the Greenbelt’s role in driving out diversity was an accident. “Preserving open space … was decidedly to insulate Boulder and to protect open space for the elite few who already lived there,” she says.

 

As a Ph.D. student at CU who specializes in economic geography and who has published research on Boulder’s affordable housing, Shae is well versed in the politics of privilege. As she sees it, the Greenbelt was a political move just as much as it was environmental.

 

While Oak’s intentions were to preserve the natural ecosystem, a different perspective regards open space policy as a group of powerful, privileged people who simply bought up the land surrounding the city and said, OK, only those who were either lucky enough to be here to share our original environmental ideals, or those who can afford to cross the greenspace and find a home in which to live can reside in our city.

 

Allyn, on the other hand, is cautious of throwing darts at any one target, though she admits housing and open space policies do seem to be related. “There are many, many issues that are interconnected,” she says, considering a growing city with a growing economy. “A lot of people think that if you didn’t have open space around Boulder that you would just build, build, build and have so much housing that you would make it more affordable.”

 

But the decades of Allyn’s city planning experience have taught her that isn’t exactly the case. “When you have a community that’s desirable, you can’t ever build enough,” she says, having learned from studying the housing situation in San Francisco. “The housing that you end up building has the same upward price pressures because more people want to live here than you can ever accommodate. … People in Boulder have said ‘OK, we’re not willing to give up our environmental values for just creating more stuff that isn’t going to be affordable.’”

 

There are ironies embedded within Boulder’s relationship with affordable housing and the environment, however, that Shae and her research haven’t overlooked. She points to the fight for co-operative housing to illustrate how she believes that insulation and the protection of a privileged community are motives buried underneath Greenbelt policies.

 

Until Feb. 16, 2017, co-op houses — residential homes with more than four unrelated people — were illegal in Boulder, despite the fact that co-ops are “the best, most environmentally efficient way to live in a city, period,” Shae explains. For instance, sharing a house leads to sharing appliances, cars, and physical space, drastically reducing an individual’s carbon footprint.

 

The law relied on citizen reporting to identify over-occupied houses, so some neighborhoods, particularly near the University, tolerated co-op living. But, in campaigning to eliminate the law throughout 2016, Shae says the residents of established neighborhoods closest to open space — where much of the older, more established Boulderites live, many of whom were active in the fight for the original open space policies — were almost uniformly opposed to the idea of co-ops in their neighborhoods.

 

It’s a thorny issue,” Shae says. “The demographic that claims to want to keep [Boulder] environmentally focused is the same demographic that is effectively blocking and even sabotaging one of the most environmentally conscious ways of life, because they see it as a threat to their property rights and lifestyle.”

 

This is part of the larger economic narrative that Shae studies in Boulder and around the world. “There are power dynamics at play shaping who wins and who loses in all housing markets,” and she cautions against letting those dynamics lead the housing situation in the city.

 

Instead of asking, How can there be a balance between environmental conservation and affordable housing? Shae insists, while moving forward, the better question is: “What power dynamics have emerged to create a society in which only the wealthy in Boulder and elsewhere have the guaranteed right to housing and access to open space?”

 

Allyn, like Shae and Oak, understands Boulder’s growing homogeneity and the outward flux of the working class is a pressing and unresolved issue. “If you don’t have that diversity of income, then you probably don’t have diversity of ethnicity, racial makeup, gender… [everything is] more limited if you only have a community that’s full of rich people,” she says. “Having a distribution of income across a spectrum is the critical thing for keeping a good community.”

 

This past October, on the day Oak turned 89, nearly 500 people gathered alongside him in a CU auditorium. Rather than sing to him though, he and the guests were there to celebrate a different birthday. The open space sales tax turned 50.

 

As the founding generation mingled over cake with a crop of future young professionals, the party was as much a celebration of the past as it was a dedication to the future of Boulder’s defining traits: progressive citizenry and environmental stewardship. These traits have shaped Boulder as an international voice in the environment, a booming economy and a desirable zip code.

 

But Shae can’t help but consider the injustice that bubbled up alongside that trajectory: when progressive thinking was solely applied to nature, the fate of certain human beings falling at the wayside.

 

By the end of 2017, Boulder determined 7.4 percent of its dwellings were affordable for low/moderate income households, with about a quarter of those units permanently so. Within the last few months — to help shrink the 2.6-percent gap between reality and the 2000 and 2011 10-percent-affordability goals — the City increased its inclusionary housing provision from 20 to 25 percent, requiring new residential developments must contribute the equivalent amount of 25 percent of their developments as affordable housing to the city. This, in tandem with the 700 affordable units under construction or in the approval process, means at the very least there are people who are listening.

Categories
Community Economy Environment Report vol1:2

A House of Straw

[blockquote3]Affordable housing nonprofit Community Rebuilds has built 28 straw bale homes with low-income families since 2010, but when they took their model to a wealthy mountain town, they ran into housing issues of their own.[/blockquote3]

 

In Colorado’s Gunnison Valley, home values are correlated with the elevation; as you move north both rise together. Over the valley’s 30-mile length from the college town of Gunnison to the 700-person ski resort village of Mount Crested Butte, median home prices more than triple.

 

According to a 2016 survey, 70% of businesses in the Gunnison Valley said that the lack of affordable housing was one of their most critical problems, leaving nearly 360 local jobs unfilled that summer and even creating an e. coli crisis in local rivers when employees crowded into tent cities on public land.

 

But, during the second half of 2016, at the high point of the valley where most dwellings are second homes with an average price of $1.6 million, a team of student workers learned how to use straw bale insulation and clay plasters to build a duplex that was both ecologically friendly and affordable. Every morning, the students would rise at 6am and commute from a rented house in Gunnison, through cow pastures, outlying subdivisions and the historically funky town of Crested Butte up to the ski slopes of Crested Butte Mountain Resort, working to ensure that two families would be able to live where they worked.

 

This project, unique among its surroundings, was a test piece led by the nonprofit Community Rebuilds to see if they could bring a model they have honed in the desert around Moab, Utah, to the extreme weather and price conditions of a ski resort town. The organization got its start in 2010 when Emily Niehaus noticed a prevalence of drafty trailers scattered throughout the mountain biking mecca and, around the same time, met a builder using “dirt cheap,” natural materials to create cheap, energy efficient homes. “If we combined an affordable housing job site with a student education program,” Niehaus realized, “we could get free labor and also solve for another need we have which is training young emerging professionals to build straw bale.”

 

By 2016, Community Rebuilds had completed 22 straw and clay homes, optimized for passive and active solar, in Moab for under $100,000 a piece and had started an offshoot program on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona. For each of their builds, the organization requires homeowners to contribute an average of 20 hours of labor per week and also helps them to secure low-interest USDA Rural Development loans – targeted at individuals and families making less than 80% of their area’s median income – to cover material costs. Community Rebuilds brings in natural building experts who lead the homeowners and a team of student laborers through a modern day barn raising.

 

“It was meant to be a fun, small project,” says Niehaus of the group’s early days. “I was not intending to solve for what has now emerged as a major affordable housing crisis.”

 

But when a Community Rebuilds board member in the Gunnison Valley suggested the organization take on a project in Mount Crested Butte, Niehaus agreed it was time to take test their triple-bottom-line model – eco-friendly, educational, affordable – in a ski town.

 

“People were saying that’s sort of random replication,” Niehaus laughs, referring to the differences between Mount Crested Butte and Hopi. “But we wanted to show that straw bale, this housing typology, is absolutely replicable in every community.”

 

The team quickly ran into unique challenges in the resort town, though. First, Community Rebuilds struggled to find housing for their students until they settled on a rental 45 minutes (on a clear day) away in Gunnison. Mitch McComb, a natural builder from Utah, had to turn down a paid position as head carpenter because, he says, “I was going to have to live in the back of my truck to do the build. I turned the job down because I didn’t think I’d be able to afford living and working there.”

 

Then the team ran up against the Mount Crested Butte’s Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs), which forced the crew to shift from their standard, rustic, single-story design to a three-floor structure gleaming with galvanized steel. And to top it off, subcontractor fees, material costs and impact fees for connecting to electricity, sewage and water pushed costs higher than any project in Community Rebuilds history.

 

“The cost of construction was twice as much [in Mount Crested Butte] as it is in Moab largely because we had to conform to the CC&Rs,” says Niehaus.

 

To keep the project affordable, Crested Butte Mountain Resort donated a lot in the Prospect Homestead subdivision – a neighborhood with deed restrictions that favor sales to members of the local workforce who meet strict income and asset caps – to the Town of Mount Crested Butte, which in turn sold the land for $0 to two pre-approved workers in town. Then, with 13 unpaid construction interns, Community Rebuilds was able to keep the cost of each unit below $205,000.

 

“You have to get creative in mountain towns,” says Carlos Velado, Mount Crested Butte’s community development director. “Land costs and the costs of construction are so high that, when accompanied by the income limits and maximum purchase prices that are dictated by the deed restrictions, it becomes difficult to develop affordable units without taking a loss.”

 

Finding developers to take on affordable housing projects has been difficult. Ten years after Prospect Homestead was deed restricted, only 15 of 37 units have been completed. The Gunnison Valley will have to add 420 units by 2020 to fully meet the needs assessed in 2016 and to account for projected growth.

 

“In order to build Affordable Housing projects, there is a need to explore alternative methods in order to build units in a way that doesn’t end up costing the developer financially,” says Velado. “In the case of Community Rebuilds, the Town and CBMR were able to provide the land at no cost to Community Rebuilds and Community Rebuilds had a system with economical labor costs and they have a good working relationship with the USDA. I think in the end these factors played a significant role in the project being successful.”

 

Moving forward, Mount Crested Butte is exploring other partnerships with Crested Butte Mountain Resort and with private developers to complete Prospect Homestead, considering plans to waive some fees and provide free land for the project. Additionally, the Gunnison Valley region recently established a housing authority to standardize deed restrictions from Mount Crested Butte to Gunnison to simplify the system for developers, employers, renters, and homeowners.

 

And, in the town of Crested Butte, voters passed a 5% tax in November on short-term vacation rentals to subsidize affordable housing programs, adding to the mitigation, in fees or units built, they assess on all new commercial and residential construction. As a result, they are able to harness the region’s economic growth to provide for the shrinking affordable home market.

 

“The community here prides itself on having an eccentric flair,” says Andrew Arell who bought one unit in the Community Rebuilds duplex. “If we don’t maintain a strong, permanent community–a true community–things that make this place iconic will diminish.”

 

As the Director of Events at Crested Butte Nordic, Arell organizes world-famous competitions like the Grand Traverse ski race from Aspen to Crested Butte. For his work, which bolsters the area economy and draws significant volunteer support, he earns of $40,000 per year. Before buying into the new straw bale home, Arell moved his two sons all over the valley. “I lived in Gunnison, I lived in Crested Butte South, on the mountain, in the town of Crested Butte,” he recalls. “For a period, we were living in a studio efficiency apartment, you know, sleeping on pull-out couches. It was not fun.”

 

Jess Manderfield, a former student intern at Community Rebuilds, says she first applied to the education program because she wanted to develop hands-on building skills. As she worked alongside Community Rebuilds homeowners, though, she soon saw the need for affordable housing. She returned to work as a paid apprentice for the Mount Crested Butte project in large part to help out local workers. “I think the workers make the culture,” she says. “You have your locals and the ski bums who don’t want to move away, the people who love mountain life, they created the vibe Crested Butte is known for, and that’s what brings tourists as well.”

 

But with the duplex complete, Community Rebuilds has no further plans to come back to work on homes in resort communities like Mount Crested Butte. “We really have more fun building in rural towns where we’re not restricted by CC&Rs,” Niehaus says, “where we can replicate our [$100,000] Moab model: a really simple, beautiful, one-story structure that’s truly affordable with adobe floors, earthen plasters, passive solar.”

 

Instead, Niehaus and her team hope to create more offshoot programs like the one they started on Hopi in 2015. So far, four homeowners there have participated, and the Community Rebuilds team has trained members of a Native American-run organization, Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ Institute, to continue constructing eco-friendly houses with tribal members. Niehaus plans to lead her team to expand soon into Bluff and Boulder, Utah, two small towns that are dependent on tourism but are less expensive and less restrictive than Mount Crested Butte.

 

Meanwhile, the Gunnison Valley is adapting some elements of Community Rebuilds’ experiment. Last year, high school students at the Crested Butte Community School assisted with the construction of a small rental unit for town employees, and in 2018, and the students will be helping with an even more ambitious project: a new duplex in Crested Butte South.

Categories
Letter from Editor vol1:2

Thinking About the End Goal

In surveys across mountain towns, housing consistently ranks among the most critical problems, with a lack of homes that are affordable to local works underpinning almost every other local issue. Many communities have been working to solve this problem for years, even decades, and yet it persists. So, with this issue of the Independent, we want to start to think about why.

We could delve farther into the fine grained details, but, really the issue is simple: we live in particularly nice places. And the result is that, short of really dramatic, mountain-leveling change in the scenery or the market, it is likely that there will always be demand for the dirt we live on. The median home sale price in Telluride in 2017 was $1.75 million, which puts it an order of magnitude higher than the national median and far out of reach for local workers with a median income of $79,000. Despite the challenges that that creates, when the town has surveyed the regional population, more people consistently want to move here than can fit. We have targets to house 60-70% of our workforce locally, but, unless demand drops, there’s probably always going to be a waiting list to live in town for the other 30-40%.

With that in mind, when we talk about solving the housing crisis we need to evaluate what exactly that means. What would it look like if the problem was solved? How would we know when we got there?

Setting numerical housing targets, need and demand gaps to fill, is useful for planning but it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers and forget to consider what they represent.

When we take action, we need to think not just in terms of how many heads might hit the pillows in the rooms we’re building, but in terms of the kinds of communities we want to live in when those minds come together. We live in amazing places and, as we seek to make them more perfect, it’s important that we take a long view and try to understand where the choices we make now will lead us.

So, in this issue we’ve combined a few data points to help compare town to town along with a series of articles and opinions that we hope will start a critical conversation about affordable housing beyond the numbers.

The public consensus is that we clearly want it. We at the Independent want to think about the end goal.