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Partnerships over laws touted at Colorado Springs affordable housing forum

February 21, 2018 Updated: February 22, 2018 at 4:01 pm
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photo - The Ridge apartments - for which land has already been purchased - aim to help address a critical affordable housing shortage in El Paso County. (Artist rendering)
The Ridge apartments - for which land has already been purchased - aim to help address a critical affordable housing shortage in El Paso County. (Artist rendering) 

Incentives and partnerships will more effectively address Colorado Springs' affordable housing shortage than new laws or ordinances, five local leaders agreed Wednesday night during a panel on the topic.

The panel, hosted by The Gazette, acknowledged the city's shortage of affordable housing, which several said is indisputably linked to the local homeless population. About 50 people attended the 90-minute discussion at the Pinery at the Hill.

Median house prices in Colorado Springs hit a record high of $295,000 in January and rents followed suit at $1,141 a month. City officials expect a deficit of 26,000 affordable units in 2019 and project the construction of only about 1,000 additional units by the end of 2019.

Requiring developers to set aside a certain number of units for affordable housing in new buildings is illegal in Colorado, said Lee Patke, executive director of Greccio Housing, an affordable housing nonprofit. Instead, the community must rely on local, state and federal partnerships, Patke and other panelists said.

Many in the community have expressed frustration at a lack of progress, but local leaders are making headway, said panelist Steve Posey the city's HUD administrator.

And the way to make more progress is to diversify the efforts, said Peter Wysocki, head of the city's planning department and another panelist.

"We're maturing as a city," Wysocki said "I think everybody is anxious to get things done ... and we should offer as many tools as possible."

That means infill, renovation, mixed-use buildings combining apartments and businesses, and more, he said. And the city can't do it alone, the work will take the help of other organizations as well.

The city can facilitate financial incentives and decrease the cost of development by streamlining the zoning and permitting processes, said panelist Laura Nelson, who works as the executive director of the Apartment Association of Southern Colorado.

And organizations like Greccio can find affordable units for those in need and offer aid to those about to become homeless due to the wide variety of expensive emergencies that can pop up at any time, said panelist and City Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler.

But the community has to step in as well, said Patke.

Gaebler agreed.

"There will be an affordable housing project that will come to your neighborhood," Gaebler said. "They will come to all of our neighborhoods."

State and federal funding will also have to play a part in providing those incentives, Posey said.

Local developer Eddie Bishop, said at the forum that affordable units cost the same for him to build as market value units. So those financial incentives play a key role in encouraging businesses to chip in, otherwise they're losing money, he said.

Bishop said the panel yielded few answers for him, largely because the topic was too massive for a short conversation.

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