A subcommittee within the Lake County Housing Coalition introduced a plan last week to enact deed restrictions in Lake County by the end of 2021.

Last Thursday, the volunteer subcommittee, which was created in 2019 to work specifically on deed restrictions, met with City Council and a small group of community members to share its plan. Proponents of affordable housing in surrounding counties were also at the meeting, which was held virtually.

“Once in place, we will be able to use deed restrictions as a tool to not only provide but protect affordable housing for the future,” said Kristi Galarza, who works as the housing manager for Lake County Build a Generation (LCBAG), the host of the Lake County Housing Coalition.

Deed restrictions are agreements placed on housing units to assure that units remain affordable. Often times deed restrictions set a cap for how much a unit can cost, especially when housing prices exceed local wages, which, Galarza said, is very much the case in Lake County.

Deed restrictions are common throughout Colorado and across the nation, according to Galarza. Regionally, such restrictions are found in Summit, Eagle and Chaffee counties.

In 2019, the housing coalition reached out to neighboring communities as part of phase one of its plan to enact deed restrictions. The coalition found that most communities use two documents to enforce deed restrictions: a legal covenant document and a community guidelines document.

The community guidelines document is usually created first, Galarza said. The housing coalition is currently planning a series of community meetings that are set to continue through the fall to plan the community guidelines.

According to Galarza, deed restriction community guidelines are highly tailored to the needs of a town and the public vetting process will be important. “The community guidelines document will address just about everything as far as enforcing deed restrictions in Lake County goes,” she explained.

For example, Lake County is a “bedroom community,” said Galarza, meaning about 70 percent of the county’s workforce commutes out of the county everyday. This is a key distinction from other counties and could complicate who qualifies for deed-restricted housing.

A community guidelines document tailored to Lake County’s needs will likely navigate the county’s “bedroom community” identity to accommodate workers who commute.

The guidelines will also answer questions like who can apply for deed-restricted housing, and how units will be distributed fairly among applicants. Galaraza said it will take several years to meet Leadville’s affordable housing needs, so initially there will be a lottery system to determine who is awarded housing.

After the community guidelines are in place, the housing coalition will seek legal assistance to draft the covenant document, which maps out specific property restrictions. That document is set to be finished by the end of the year.

Augustina Remedios, who works as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer for the Chaffee Housing Trust and LCBAG, said deed restrictions are a bargaining tool used for new developments, but property owners may apply deed restrictions on their own property to protect its affordability.

Usually, developers who apply deed restrictions to a certain number of units are allowed higher-density occupancy or other privileges that would otherwise be outside of code. Remedios said the City of Leadville would facilitate such negotiations.

According to Galarza, a number of developers with ongoing projects in Lake County have expressed interest in deed-restricting units.

While Thursday’s meeting was meant to be an introduction to deed restrictions, a series of future meetings will go into further detail. On the docket for upcoming meetings on May 11 and May 25 are discussions about funding mechanisms for deed restrictions.

The above article is the first in a series published by the Herald Democrat on affordable housing tools and developments in Lake County.

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