Friday, July 12

The Crestone Eagle is a nonprofit monthly newspaper serving Crestone and the San Luis Valley

Range View Apartments puzzle pieces fall into place in Saguache

By Tricia Toney.

Pieces of an complicated puzzle are beginning to fall into place on the way to funding 32 units of affordable housing in Saguache.

The proposed Range View Apartment complex will require an estimated $16.1 million to complete. Puzzle pieces include cooperation with multiple governmental agencies, grant approvals, partnership with private business enterprises, private investors, and a tax incentive program. 

And that’s all before a shovel hits the dirt. 

Once complete, the apartments will provide housing for school teachers, restaurant workers, retirees, and others who make less than $60,300 a year for a two-person household. Evan Samora, out-going director of the Saguache County Housing Authority (SCHA), has been a dedicated puzzle-solver in affordable housing for more than a decade.  

Before 2019, there was no pathway to create affordable housing in Saguache County. Given the median income in one of the poorest counties in Colorado, commercial builders did not foresee a return on investment. 

Before beginning to apply for any government money, a potential developer needs to provide evidence of the need for affordable housing. For many years, a “housing needs assessment” was prohibitively expensive for Saguache County. Essentially, it was too expensive for the county to prove the need for affordable housing existed. 

Beginning in 2019, five counties organized to create the San Luis Valley Housing Coalition. Over the next two years, the group collaborated to fund a San Luis Valley Housing Needs Assessment. The resulting documents quantified the affordable housing crisis in the valley. To view the official reports, released in 2021, go to: www.slvhc.com. 

Fast-forward from that first piece of the puzzle to now. 

The complex has a name and an address. Right now, the physical site sits on a vacant lot at 250 Gunnison Ave., in Saguache. The paperwork resides in file cabinets and computers with amendments and updates added weekly. That may not sound like much, though the puzzle of the Range View Apartments must first be built on paper — from monetary notes to partnership agreements, permits and construction contracts. Only then can physical construction commence. 

On April 2, the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) officially awarded the Saguache County Housing Authority $369,616 to go towards infrastructure supporting the complex. This grant, coming from the Strong Communities Infrastructure Program (SCIP), is earmarked for “off-site improvements,” with $358,000 toward bringing adequate water and sewer lines to the property and the rest toward design, engineering, sidewalks, parking areas and project management costs. 

So far, Saguache County has committed $200,000 to support the Range View project. The town of Saguache chipped in $20,000, and the Saguache County Housing Authority allocated $7,500 from its current budget. 

These commitments, in conjunction with having a “shovel ready” site, provided the 20 percent in matching funds required for the Housing Authority to apply for the requested amount from Strong Communities Infrastructure Program.

“This grant award is a game-changer for us,” says Samora about the SCIP grant award. “It validates our vision, and allows us to move forward confidently in creating a better future for our community.”

During the past 18 months, the Saguache County Housing Authority has submitted five grant applications and three applications for “Congressionally Directed Spending” (CDS) for funding various aspects of the Range View project. 

Several of the grant applications have been denied, but Samora is optimistic about the chances of the most recently submitted Congressionally Directed Spending request. This recent ask would fund carports and photovoltaic panels. A similar project was funded through the same program for affordable housing in Salida last year. 

After the successful DOLA grant, and, depending on the outcome of other pending applications, more than $15 million still is needed to complete the puzzle on paper. 

What’s next? 

Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) are the main vehicle for funding affordable housing developments. The program works by awarding tax credits to qualified housing developers, who then sell the tax credits to investors. 

These tax benefits provide incentive for private investors to fund construction costs. This model drastically reduces the amount of debt service that an affordable housing development might otherwise incur.

The program is a complicated and competitive funding source. Applications must be submitted by a housing developer who has experience with the program. 

The Saguache County Housing Authority has partnered with Northwest Real Estate Capital Corp (NWRECC) for this purpose. 

Samora, the partners at NWRECC, and all proponents now await word from an interested LIHTC investor. 

Samora feels good about the strength of the application. But nothing is guaranteed. The LIHTC awards should be announced in May.

The funding would put another huge piece of the puzzle in place. If all goes as planned, physical construction will begin in the Spring of 2025. 

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