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State of Colorado derails affordable housing; work force housing no longer for just workers
The state of Colorado has ruled that Silverthorne cannot require all buyers to work at least 30 hours in the county to buy affordable/deed restricted housing. The implications of this ruling are monumental for affordable housing throughout Colorado. Without a work requirement in the county, how do cities throughout the Colorado mountains ensure “work force” housing is for people that work within the area?
What was the case in Silverthorne CO about?
Homes in the Smith Ranch development in Silverthorne are deed restricted to homebuyers who work at least 30 hours per week in the county on average. This is standard language that I’ve seen used throughout the Colorado mountain communities.
A local woman with a disability who wanted to enter the lottery system, which the town uses to select homebuyers, was denied because she was unable to meet this requirement. She submitted a complaint to the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies.
Because people with disabilities are a protected class under both Colorado and federal fair housing laws, it is illegal to discriminate based on disability status. The complainant reported that she was denied reasonable accommodation based on her protected class. The town argued that allowing the woman to enter the Smith Ranch lottery would change the primary purpose and goals of the workforce housing program: to provide units for employees in the county.
The Colorado Civil Rights Division has decided that a provision in the Smith Ranch housing lottery requiring homebuyers to work 30 hours per week in the county is discriminatory against those with disabilities.
Why is this ruling so important for affordable housing?
On the surface, this ruling opens a can of worms for affordable housing throughout the state of Colorado. Long covid and various other items are now considered disabilities. Theoretically if someone has “brain fog” they could buy an affordable house in Silverthorne or any other resort community regardless of if they work in the county or even lived in the county prior to this.
The intent of affordable housing in many mountain communities is to provide housing for a local worker that otherwise cannot afford to live in the area. It is a crucial tool to retain workers for local businesses. Think of a place like Aspen where the median home price is over 3 million dollars, where do servers live, employees of the ski lift, or others? Local residents have recognized these workers are critical to the vitality of the area and voted to allocate millions of tax dollars to workforce/affordable housing. The last election furthered this commitment of locals to fellow workers with most mountain towns increasing funding to affordable housing.
Affordable housing is funded by the community to enable a more inclusive community that enables workers to live in the place that they work. Unfortunately, the ruling by the Colorado Civil rights division could make future work requirements very difficult if people are unable to work.
The long-term implications of this ruling are unprecedented. How do housing authorities going forward keep the intent of their mission for “local workers” if the requirement to work is removed? I Unfortunately, the state of Colorado action with such a broad ruling opens a can of worms with a precedent that could drastically change the intent of affordable housing in Colorado’s resort communities. The unintended consequences to affordable housing from this ruling in Colorado resort towns are monumental.
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Written by Glen Weinberg, COO/ VP Fairview Commercial Lending. Glen has been published as an expert in hard money lending, real estate valuation, financing, and various other real estate topics in Bloomberg, Businessweek ,the Colorado Real Estate Journal, National Association of Realtors Magazine, The Real Deal real estate news, the CO Biz Magazine, The Denver Post, The Scotsman mortgage broker guide, Mortgage Professional America and various other national publications.
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