Innovative Partnership Makes Housing Attainable in Colorado’s Rural Communities
by Alex Izbiky
El Pomar Foundation is proud to support the Rural Homes project, an initiative led by the Telluride Foundation and supported by numerous community partners and other philanthropic organizations, which seeks to build attainable housing in the San Juan region. Specifically, the project intends to build affordable homes for critical workforce to live in the communities of Nucla, Norwood and Ridgway. As Colorado communities continue to revitalize local economies that have been stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic, investment in the infrastructure and institutions of rural communities is a critical step in ensuring towns across Colorado are rebuilding on solid ground. This issue is especially fundamental for rural communities where accessibility of local housing stock has plummeted for a variety of reasons, including an increasing cost of entry from an expanding vacation rental market.
The Rural Homes project has assembled partners from across all three sectors in hopes of providing high quality, attainable workforce housing intended for critical members of these communities such as teachers, healthcare providers and local and federal government employees. By leveraging the low-interest capital of private foundations, the technological savvy of real estate companies and home designers and the resources and local know-how of municipal entities like school districts and counties, the project is pursuing attainable housing in a way that none of these entities can accomplish individually.
Managed by the Telluride Foundation, the partnership plans to acquire property through land contributions from municipal entities, reducing the final costs that will be passed on to the eventual homeowners. Construction partners like Simple Homes (owned and led by El Pomar Fellowship alum Jeff Hopfenbeck) will reduce costs by utilizing prefabricated panelized methods that lower total waste product by up to 30%, without reducing the quality of the home built. This will also allow homes to be built in a factory in less than 24 hours and stood up on site in as few as three days.
Providing attainable housing to communities like Nucla, Norwood and Ridgway will enable growth and increased opportunity for the future of their residents. By designating many of these homes for essential workforce and imposing a live-work requirement on the deeds, Rural Homes will be able to ensure that new housing stock will be an investment in the community, alongside the rapidly expanding vacation rental market in the region. By bringing new residents into the community, services supporting these areas will also have more resources to address needs and expand amenities to meet the growing nature of their communities. For example, the Rural Homes Project estimates that 15 new homes built in the West End site in Nucla would provide more than $16,000 annually in tax revenue to local services like the school, and fire and water districts in the community. In addition, the land parcels identified in Nucla and Norwood are proximate to local schools and libraries, creating opportunities for new residents to quickly integrate themselves into local community resources, thus creating a virtuous cycle.
A key feature of the Rural Homes project is that it would produce a toolkit to accompany the pilot project with a goal of potentially replicating this process across Colorado and beyond. El Pomar is honored to support this innovative project that is looking to address rural Colorado’s affordable housing challenges, and hopes future communities will benefit from the lessons learned through this approach.