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As Lafayette launches new affordable housing mission, logistical questions loom large

As Lafayette launches new affordable housing mission, logistical questions loom large
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Development’s number of units, prices and timeline now murkier than first thought

The initial fanfare surrounding news that leaders had brokered a deal last summer to install hundreds of affordable homes on one of Lafayette’s last vestiges of undeveloped land has naturally given way to some logistical realities.

The “East Lafayette” project — planned for the northwest corner of Emma and 120th streets — will not host the 500 units originally touted in news releases and city staff reports, and judging by the public outreach timeline, coupled with the city’s soon-to-be expanded development review process, a groundbreaking on the site before the end of this decade is unlikely.

Boulder County Housing and Human Services spokesman Jim Williams on Thursday said the original unit number was based on an estimate of what the property could legally hold, but when filtered through Lafayette’s zoning regulations and open space requirements, that figure will be decidedly smaller.

The “affordable” home prices heralded in the project’s very name are liable to shut out the bulk of applicants, officials say, a reality hardly isolated to this development alone: measured against Boulder County’s almost prohibitively expensive rates, affordability is often still out of reach for most potential renters.

The daunting housing statistics seen at the county level — an additional $400 million is needed to build 12,000 affordable housing units over the next 16 years — are often amplified in its eastern half. In Lafayette, the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom home in March was roughly $1,800, according to a Boulder County Housing and Human Services analysis, a 42 percent increase from prices in 2011.

More than half of Lafayette residents currently spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, a sect of the population identified as “housing cost-burdened renters” — the same study also suggests that roughly a quarter of the city’s residents spend more than half of their income on housing.

The “East Lafayette” development will divide its housing options between rentals and units available for affordable ownership, according to Ian Swallow, a BCHA development planner serving as the project manager for this bid.

Rentals likely will be priced below 60 percent of the area median income rates — $1,222 and $1,694 for one- and three-bedroom units, respectively, according to rentcafe.com — and ownership units will potentially run between 60 and 120 percent AMI, Swallow said.

For Holly Gates, a single mother and university professor considering a move from Westminster into Lafayette’s latest affordable offering, the rental prices are still a reach.

Gates says that roughly 75 percent of her $30,000 annual salary is currently poured into her monthly rent, finances that make it nearly impossible “to afford all the things that I’m supposed to afford.”

Despite the urgency of her situation, she says she hopes that the officials spearheading “East Lafayette” are mindful of how they usher the development into the community.

“I want them to make sure it’s built in a way that is not only sustainable, but good for the quality of life for people who would live there and those living directly around it,” she said. “I’m looking forward to seeing if they are really listening or just saying the things that need to be said.”

Her concerns mirror those of Old Town neighbors, who in recent weeks have taken officials to task over the vagueness surrounding early outreach measures.

“Our concerns are that they are claiming that they’re trying to get all this community involvement and trying to get in touch with everyone, but no one around here really knew about (the public outreach meetings),” Christi Walsh, who lives in unincorporated Boulder County adjacent to the 24-acre site, said Thursday.

“I admit of course that I don’t want anything to (be built) there, and we all recognize the need for affordable housing,” she added, “but we all feel like we’re about to be railroaded.”

Some residents have raised questions about how the development’s eventual buildout will impact traffic and transportation infrastructure, given that it is surrounded by a school and quiet neighborhood.

They have also pointed to past dealings as cause for alarm, including a 2011 arrangement between BCHA, Lafayette officials and then-Noble Energy allowing for drilling nearer to the Josephine Commons development made in an effort to complete the project.

Officials are currently in the process of a three-phase public engagement catalog: immersion, community wide engagement and inclusive planning process. The second and ongoing phase involves a series of open house meetings to gauge residents’ overarching goals for the site.

Marcus Pachner of the Denver-based Pachner Company, the firm shepherding the outreach process, said Thursday that while the early stages are intentionally opaque, he hopes residents will begin to trust the process when they see their input incorporated into designs. Once the process moves further down the line, “We can say ‘stay with us and join us and then we’ll start planning together,'” he told City Council in June.

Such designs may be drafted before the end of the year.

Anthony Hahn: 303-473-1422, hahna@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/_anthonyhahn





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