Craig City Council approves formation of housing authority

Citing a critical need for housing, Craig City Council is moving forward with creating a city housing authority after receiving mixed public feedback on the effort. 

City officials have known for some time that Craig will need to work to become more attractive to developers that want to build housing in the community. City staff have been working for the last few years to complete a housing needs assessment and action plan. 

On July 26, council held a public hearing for community feedback before adopting a resolution to create a city housing authority. There were some community members who voiced support for the new housing authority, while other people expressed their concerns. 

Community member Vicki Hyser said her main concern is the people of Craig haven’t been given enough information about how a housing authority is going to impact the community. 

“All I am asking is that the people of Craig get some more information before moving forward with this resolution,” Hyser said. 

Alex Gano, an attorney who has been working with the city on the real estate matters, said that housing authorities function as broadly as the communities they serve.

City Council has yet to determine the scope of the city housing authority, but has emphasized that some decisions, such as any tax exemptions for developers, would be assessed on a case by case basis. 

“I want to assure the public that each project will have scrutiny that will be laser focused,” council member Tom Kleinschnitz said.

Council member Chris Nichols said the city is working with developers and finding there is a gap between construction costs and actual market costs. A housing authority could help fill some of those gaps and open up additional funding through state and federal grants.

The resolution was the result of a June workshop to investigate establishing a city housing authority, a partnership that would allow the city to access a variety of different tools to attract developers to local housing projects.

The prospective sale and renovation of Columbine Apartments on Wickes Avenue on the west side of Craig was one project that sparked the resolution.

A city housing authority would not be limited to working with low-income housing. Some community members said they don’t want any more low-income or Section 8 housing in Craig. 

During Tuesday’s meeting, Gano said officials could decide what population the housing authority would serve. According to Gano, other housing authorities in the region have been designed to support housing for families making up to 120% of the area median income, which typically puts them in the middle class. 

If Craig were to decide to target a similar population, the annual income of those households would be approximately $70,000.

City Manager Peter Brixius said there is a spectrum of projects a housing authority would consider, there are not only multi-family homes, but also single-family homes that would be attainable for local wage earners. 

“There are lots of different programs and lots of different applications,” Brixius said.

Brixius has looked at housing authority projects in other communities, and said one interesting model is deed-restricted properties. Putting deed restrictions on housing mandates local workers live in the home and puts a 2% limit on the appreciation of a house each year, capping the sales price.

Gano said there are other ways a housing authority can generate revenue and support projects. One of those tools is to provide tax exemptions for housing developments, but that is not the only tool. 

There are also state and federal grants that are awarded to housing authorities to loan out for development projects. Interest gained from those loans will generate more revenue to be invested into other housing projects.

Memorial Regional Health CEO Jennifer Riley, who was a part of the housing needs assessment, spoke in support of the city housing authority.

Riley said that most of the hospital staff are going to be in the entry level housing range, and the hospital does lose employees because they can’t find housing in Craig. 

“We send job offers out the door every day, but when people look at what’s available for housing, they often rescind the acceptance of a job due to lack of housing,” Riley said. “We’ve had people with families move here and be looking for housing for six months and ultimately have to move because they just can’t find anything.”  

Most council members were in agreement with the exception of Paul James, who opposed the resolution. 

“I don’t trust it,” James said. “I agree that something needs to be done. I am not going to sit here and pretend that I have the right answer, but I don’t believe it’s this … My concern is that it will be used as a short-term relief and create problems down the road.”

All other council members approved the resolution, and many felt it is a critical next step to solving local housing issues.  

“There’s a need,” said council member Derek Duran. “Obviously, I am in the construction business, and I hear it daily from local businesses, that they are losing new employees due to lack of housing and that residents are having a tough time finding affordable places to live.” 

In other business

• In a workshop, city officials discussed mid-year flat rate bonuses for city staff. Brixius and Finance Director Katy Burns explored several options for issuing bonuses. City staff are recommending a one-time, flat-rate bonus that will cost $258,000. The bonus will be approximately 6% for $40,000, and approximately 2% for $100,000 salary earners. There could be another cost of living increase at the end of the year.

• Moffat County Director of Development Services Roy Tipton presented an update on the demolition of the old courthouse, which is anticipated to begin in summer 2023. Once the property is cleaned up, the county plans to turn it over to the city for the Economic Development Committee to market to potential developers.

• Brixius, Craig Mayor Ryan Hess and Moffat County Natural Resources Director Jeff Comstock met with a solar power financial representative about a potential solar development with ConEdison south of Craig. ConEdison has to go through the request for proposals process before it can move forward with the project, but ConEdison is securing land for the project, including a tentative lease on a city parcel near the wastewater plant.

• The city’s first budget planning session is scheduled for Aug. 18. There will be two half-day sessions in August and September and a full-day session in October to make final changes before the budget comes to council for approval.

• Moffat County Building Official Marlin Eckoff has requested a workshop with council to discuss an ordinance for short term rental and ADUs in the city. There is currently no ordinance in the city to say whether short term rentals and ADUs are permitted in Craig.

• During public comment, Ashley Ellis was accompanied by more than a dozen local young people who asked the city to establish an ordinance for building a public memorial. Ellis approached City Council two weeks ago and has been advocating for an ordinance so she can establish a public memorial for her son, Eli Ellis.

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