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Quagmires plague workforce housing

At their regular meeting on January 10, the Workforce Housing Board (WHB) said farewell to member Carol Vayhinger, who passed on her list of contacts as well as some blunt words for the Board and the county to consider.

“It’s a lot of work for a volunteer Board,” she concluded. “We need finance and building people [to join], and they don’t want to work on a county committee because the county is in such chaos.”

With regard to the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds that had been awarded to the Board by the county back in 2022, Vayhinger advised, “If we are running up against the deadline for the ARPA funds [to be allocated and spent], we should just give the money to Silver Cliff,” as the Town of Silver Cliff has shown the most forward momentum in terms of adding housing stock, in addition to being the site of the 19 county-owned lots that have been dedicated to the purpose of providing affordable workforce housing since 2022. (The deadline for allocating funds, according to the federal government’s ARPA website, is December 31, 2024.)

“Let’s move forward with some sort of proposal to the county [about getting the ARPA funds and developing those lots],” suggested Board member Troy Bomgardner, who is also a Silver Cliff Trustee.

After Vayhinger’s departure, Barry Keene made suggestions for how to move forward, first confirming with Commissioner Lucas Epp, who was present at the meeting, that all current Board members had been ratified by the Board of County Commissioners to continue into 2024-25. “I want to see us become a technical advocates and research board,” he said: “With Max Hanson [UAACOG Regional Housing Director] in charge of things like finding money and moving it around, and me doing things like going to service clubs to continue making the case for workforce housing in the county.”

During further discussion of the WHB’s role and mission, Keene stated that he wanted someone who is “housing stressed” on the board, in order to provide perspective. Epp suggested that “trying to find money and contractors and stuff is beyond the scope of this Board,” but that providing ideas and research was not. Board member Steve Lasswell, after diving into some of the history of the current Board, gave an update on the recent decision by Round Mountain Water and Sanitation District (RMWSD) to lift the water tap moratorium, which will spur development within District boundaries (Lasswell is a member of the RMWSD Board.)

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After some further discussion of possible models for workforce housing such as “rent to own” and land trusts, Epp said that he would look into the ARPA fund distribution as well as other federal funds such as the LATCF (Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Funds) that had been awarded to the county during COVID, and Keene said that he would be bringing back some further ideas for restructuring the WHB, as well as a by-laws revision, to the February meeting.

– Elliot Jackson

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