Of the many challenges involved in addressing our housing shortage, the most pervasive is sustained funding. Because housing solutions include construction of new low-cost units, subsidies are needed. Although some conveniently continue to advocate for purely market-driven solutions, we know of no evidence – zero – that this approach works. Nor can it work given the realities of our mountain location. Public funding is therefore required.
Our position, simply put, is this: For the Estes Valley to continue to be the appealing and vibrant community it has been, it is necessary and beneficial for those who work in our community to be able to live here as well. In fact, sustaining the quality of life we currently enjoy depends upon it. It is also widely understood that not only have we failed to reach this goal but we have been receding from it over time.
· land (whose availability is limited here in the Estes Valley);
How much? It appears that an ongoing, annual funding stream of about $3 million per year would break the housing logjam here in the Estes Valley and allow for continuing progress. Bonding against such a revenue stream would have a significant long-term impact and effect. Specific needs include funding for:
· developer incentives (which can take a variety of forms and sometimes are more like loans).
· infrastructure (any or all of streets, water, power, sewers, etc., depending on where that land is);
Because the housing shortage can be traced to the millions of visitors who come here each year, it is reasonable to expect them to help foot the bill. Probably the most straight-forward and equitable approach to this is some form of a tax on accommodations. However, Estes Park, because it is a Statutory Town, does not enjoy the autonomy needed to levy a lodging tax on its visitors.
An alternative involves tax districts. These districts can be formed for a variety of purposes specified in various state statutes and can levy different sorts of taxes for expenses specifically related to those purposes. Here in the Estes Valley, we already have several tax districts that encompass geographic areas extending beyond Town limits. Some of these tax districts appear on property tax bills; others, such as Visit Estes Park, do not. These districts work. We depend upon them. In many instances we even brag about them. A housing tax district, like VEP’s district, could extend beyond town limits and apply to all lodging in the Valley.
What is missing from current state statutes, as far as we can tell, is anything about housing as an allowed purpose for such tax districts. While legislators over the years have recognized the need for tax districts to provide for such public-interest facilities and services as schools, libraries, hospitals, fire protection, parks, and even mosquito control, they seem never to have recognized housing as something of similar public need and interest. Given the urgency of dealing with the housing shortage state-wide, we believe that the time for such recognition has come, and we urge that such an option be thoroughly explored and advanced.
This, however, is a long-term solution, one that will take time to implement. What is needed here in the Estes Valley is something more immediate. A first-step solution could be what state statutes call an “occupational tax,” meaning a flat-rate, across-the-board, per-room, per-night tax on all accommodations. Such a tax of about $6 would immediately begin to generate the funds needed to address our housing problem. This would require a referendum, per TABOR, and the Town Trustees have the authority to initiate the process. It would provide a sustainable funding bridge between the needs of the present and a future funding stream available through the creation of a Valley-wide housing tax district and associated (3% or so) lodging tax. The occupational tax could then be phased out.
We urge our public officials to consider the matter carefully and proceed to move toward such a tax, or, for that matter, to consider and implement any alternative approach to generating the sustainable funding needed to forcefully and finally address our housing needs. The problem facing Estes Park has been thoroughly identified and explored. It is now time to take action. The authors are members of the Estes Park Trail Gazette’s Editorial Board.