The push to build affordable housing in the City of Littleton gained momentum during a Jan. 11 study session between the city council and the Housing Task Force.
Eric Veith, the task force’s chairman, made a strong endorsement for the city to take up a new housing ordinance that would outline guidelines and requirements for developers seeking to build income-restricted housing in the city.
“If we’re going to maintain a community that is affordable for people … like firefighters and schoolteachers, then we need to start figuring out different ways to provide housing,” Veith said.
The proposal comes amid a backdrop of rising housing costs statewide, leading local governments, advocacy groups and would-be home buyers to declare an affordable housing crisis in Colorado. For metro cities like Littleton, population growth and historically restrictive zoning laws have caused a deficit in housing, Veith said.
“A lot of our challenges housing-wise as a city can just be traced back to a lack of supply,” he said.
The issue is nothing new for council members. A need for more housing, including in-come restricted homes, was identified in 2017 after the city partnered with Root Policy, a research firm that conducted a study to guide future policy recommendations for housing.
On Jan. 11, Molly Fitzpatrick, a member of Root Policy, presented three new ordinances council could take up to ensure affordable housing is present in new developments.
The first, an inclusionary housing ordinance, would require private companies to build affordable housing whenever new housing is built.
The second, known as a linkage fee, would not require affordable units in new developments but instead force builders to pay a fee that the city could put towards affordable housing.
The third, an incentive program, would reward developers who include affordable housing in their buildings by allowing, for example, extra floors to be built in multi-story projects.
Most council members expressed an appetite for pursuing some form of a new ordinance.
“Looking at the different options, I think all three definitely play a role,” Littleton Mayor Kyle Schlachter said, adding that he would like to see “some sort of mandatory inclusionary zoning.”
Mayor Pro Tem and Councilmember At-Large Gretchen Rydin, a therapist and social worker, said housing is intrinsically linked to a person’s mental health and that supporting more affordable housing would bolster the community’s wellbeing.
“Housing is a huge barrier to the health of our community,” Rydin said. “So I see a direct threat, not just to our workforce, but to the mental health of our community. I hope that this council can get some sort of inclusionary housing ordinance passed.”
But other council members showed resistance.
“This concept of Littleton needs more, more, more, I don’t buy it,” said Councilmember Patrick Driscoll, who represents Littleton’s District 1, which includes the downtown area.
Driscoll said he felt council members were sometimes “at odds with the community for what we really need,” citing recent divisive council votes such as the approval in November to rezone the Aspen Grove shopping center for new housing units.
That decision led thousands of residents to petition to hold a referendum on the Aspen Grove project. That petition was approved by the City Clerk’s office last week. Council will now have to either rescind the new zoning ordinance for Aspen Grove or punt the decision to a city-wide vote. For Driscoll and other council members, it highlights the contention residents feel around new housing.
Still, members of the task force felt optimistic that council would stay engaged in the conversation around affordable housing, especially after council members unanimously approved hundreds of thousands of dollars for an affordable housing project in early January.
That vote on Jan. 5 unlocked more than $344,000 of federal grant money over the next three years to go towards South Metro Housing Options’ current development of 51 new one-bedroom housing units at West Powers Avenue and South Elati Street.
The for-rent units will be available to only seniors aged 62 and over earning 30 to 60% of the area’s median income, according to South Metro Housing Options Executive Director Corey Reitz.
“Littleton, as a community, is realizing and understanding the importance and the need for affordable housing,” Reitz said.
The money approved by council only makes up a small slice of the overall funding for the housing project, which Reitz said is expected to cost $18.5 million or more, depending on if inflation continues to drive up supply costs.
But “every dollar helps at this point,” Reitz said.
For Veith, the Housing Task Force chair, the affordable housing crisis will only continue to worsen if the city does not act.
“It is really a policy and funding question,” he said.
“It might feel like we have enough housing in the community because we all have a home … (but) we’re clearly at a shortage,” Veith continued. “It’s easy to wake up every morning and say `well I have a home’ … but there’s lots of people out there struggling.”
Kelly Milliman, council member for southwest Littleton’s District 4, which includes Aspen Grove, urged her colleagues to take up the issue sooner rather than later.
“Let’s take these steps forward and keep moving this train forward,” she said. “We’ve got the moment, let’s keep moving and not kick the can down the road.”