Real Estate & Construction  April 6, 2023

NoCo Real Estate Summit: For affordable housing, it takes a team

FORT COLLINS — Making housing more affordable takes a team approach, panelists agreed Wednesday at BizWest’s 2023 Northern Colorado Real Estate Summit Wednesday.

“The problem of affordable housing is very solvable in Northern Colorado, but you can’t do it yourself,” said Jammie Sabin, co-owner of Loveland-based Aspen Homes. “You have to have a team of people all working toward the same goal, all the way through from the developer, builder, Realtor, and working with the city. If any of those people aren’t working with you, it’s not going to be achievable.”

It’s not easy, noted Terry Bernard, multifamily production and outreach coordinator for the Colorado Finance and Housing Authority, “when the cost to build is greater than the affordability you’re trying to serve.”

Panelists noted that “affordability” generally means targeting people making around 80% of average median income, which for a family of three in Larimer County is between $43,000 and $77,000 a year. For a family of four, added Kristin Candella, executive director and CEO of Fort Collins Habitat for Humanity, that means a household income around $85,000 a year — “teachers, bank tellers, service workers, health care workers.”

She noted that for her organization, it costs about $350,000 to build a 1,200 square-foot home, and “our homebuyers can’t afford any more than they could a decade ago, so that gap is at least $100,000 per unit on what folks can afford.”

Closing that gap means becoming “hyper-scrappy with multiple partners,” she said. “It takes collaboration, moving boulders out of the way of my team wherever I can. We are self-financed, so our public partnerships are crucial — the city, churches, synagogues, mosques, breweries, individual donors and the volunteers that build a house.”

She noted that land banking is one way to cut housing costs. 

“Land now is going to cost less than land in five, 10 years, so land banking is really important not just for our cities but for nonprofit housing developers.that want to buy it now but can’t build on it for a number of years.”

Another piece she’s working for is legislation to extend a property-tax exemption for nonprofits that are mission-based.

“We have nine units being built by Poudre High School students, one per year, and 500 students learning geometry through construction. Our homes can be classrooms to help with the labor shortage and opportunities that are outside of a four-year college. That property tax exemption is critical, because if you’re doing the math it’ll take nine years to build those nine homes, but 500 to 1,000 students will go through that program. Right now the exemption is only five years, and if this bill passes it will be a 10-year exemption.”

Bernard said CHFA works toward increasing minority ownership by “creating new solutions where we can, especially around advancing equity.”

The city of Loveland has “pretty lofty goals for 2023” for affordable housing, said Alison Hade, that city’s community partnership office administrator, including “updating the municipal code so developers who have these old planned unit developments can come administratively to the city of Loveland and say, ‘We were going to build single-family homes on 7,000 square-foot lots. Instead, we want to extend the land capacity by 10%, 20%, 30% by building a variety of housing types so that we can have housing at potentially each one of those income levels.’ If they want to add an affordable component to it,” she said, “targeting those lower income levels, they can offer additional incentives. That’s set to go to our City Council by the middle of May.

“Our hope is that people who have these older lots can come in and really be a partner to building additional units, increasing the number and type, and offering affordable types at different levels,” she said.

Sabin noted that “the speed that small business needs to adapt and the speed that a city works at are two separate things. That’s an ongoing problem. But the city of Loveland is doing a tremendous job right now trying to address that problem and we are very excited about it.”

Hade acknowledged that “it’s difficult to impact what Jammie said because it encompasses almost every department in order to build a home. The city of Loveland has taken that on, but that’s not an easy thing to do. The speed of speeding it up is also tenuous.”

The rewards of building affordable housing can be great, the panelists agreed.

“There’s a lot of advantages for a builder,” Rabin said. “You’re picking up a new customer that no one else has, so you’re spreading your market. You also have to continue to adjust and optimize, and by doing that you’re making yourself very efficient in the general market.”

Candella said she is motivated by inequity. “Renters have average savings of about $6,000, while homeowners have about $250,000. Closing that gap is really important to me.”

Added Bernard, “When you go out and see the results, when you see the buildings that get built, when you see the residents that get served, and especially when you’re at the groundbreaking and they share how they were living in a one-bedroom apartment with five grandchildren and now they have a three-bedroom home with brand new amenities, it really touches your heart.”

Sabin agreed.

“People that are getting into the first home they’ve had in their entire life, they come up and hug you. They’re crying,” he said. “You don’t see that in the general market. So it’s very rewarding and it’s well worth it.

“If you can make sure the developer’s treated fairly, the builder, the Realtor, the city, the buyer, and everybody comes away treated fairly, you can make a lot of things happen. If you switch your mindset to one of abundance, you can get a lot done.”

Added Bernard, “It takes everybody to make it work.”

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