Planning Commission meets tonight to discuss Work Force Housing

Tonight, August 8, the Planning Commission will meet at 6 pm in City Council Chambers for a work session. One agenda item is Work Force Housing. What does that mean to you? To me, it means housing for all the people who work for a living in our valley. The teachers who teach our children. The store clerks who keep the shelves full so we can purchase the things we need everyday. The server at a restaurant who is tired at the end of a long summer, and knows that when business falls off, so does their take home pay. The nurses, firefighters, and EMT's who make sure we are safe. These people are vital to our town, and the vibrancy that makes Salida the place we choose to call home. These jobs will always exist, but if our community does not have appropriate housing for these employees, they will commute from farther and farther away, and our community will be less of a community because these people don't live here any more.

These people are under tremendous stress when it comes to finding a place to live. Home prices are escalating, and rentals are scarce. I want to keep these people in our town. I want their children to attend our excellent schools. I want these kids to have the option to live in Salida when they become adults, if that is their desire.

Tonight's work session is the continuation of a public conversation about work force housing in our community. As a developer, I know many of the road blocks to building housing for those in the 80% to 120% AMI (Area Median Income). From the availability of land to the costs of utilities and landscaping, it seems our City codes are written to encourage the building of expensive single family homes. The current market rewards builders and developers who choose to build $500k spec homes. Changes to our zoning map, increases in density in residential zones, reductions in infrastructure requirements - these changes can make it more feasible and desirable for people to invest in multifamily housing, which is a key to work force housing.

There are several ways to create work force housing that have not been attempted in Salida . One idea is a dormitory situation where workers rent a room and share a bath and kitchen. Many of our workers are millennials and outdoor enthusiasts who really just want a safe place to crash when they are not working, biking, or playing on the river. Another idea is to convert motels to studio spaces. My research in other markets shows me that physically this is not difficult, but getting the right zoning and cooperation from Planning and Building departments can make this a non starter. Yet up in BV a couple of companies have done just that - they purchased an older motel and they use it to house their employees.

The discussion about work force housing is not just for the person looking for a place to live. I think employers should be involved in this discussion, too. Many employers would like to grow their businesses, but cannot hire and retain the key employees needed to do this due the shortage of affordable housing. The City, the Salida School District, the hospital, the ski area - these entities should be a part of the discussion, as well as the small business owners who have difficulty staying staffed up year round.

I invite you to come to the Planning meeting tonight. The link below will take you to the packet for tonight's meeting. I think that this will be an ongoing community discussion that will not be solved overnight. Even if you just want to come and listen, putting bodies in the room will help our elected officials and volunteer board members know that this topic is important to us.

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