Photo by Ryan Fitzmaurice
Autumn Dever (front) and Judy Lohnes discuss with the housing commission the roles the Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments can play in providing affordable housing.
In a discussion with officials from the Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments, UAACOG argued it can do most things a housing authority can do at only a fraction of the cost.
The main difference between the UAACOG and a housing authority, according to Regional Housing Director Autumn Dever, is that a council of government can’t create or collect taxes, or issue bonds. In place, UAACOG can help local municipalities and counties apply for loans and grants as well as participate in state and federal affordable housing programs.
Dever said UAACOG’s ability to get communities grants and loans replaces the main reasons communities opt for a housing authority.
“The purpose behind a housing authority in the past was to get funding,” Dever said. “That is no longer the case; you no longer need an authority to get access to that funding. A nonprofit entity or inter-governmental entity has access to those things.”
Dever said for a portion of the cost it would take Leadville to establish an authority and hire a director for it, it could instead pay for a UAACOG employee focused on housing to have an office in Lake County.
“I have people in mind who can step into that position,” Dever said.
Finding an individual with the expertise needed will also likely be difficult for a rural community such as Lake County, Dever said.
The UAACOG already has the capability to provide several housing programs locally.
The UAACOG provides Section 8 rental assistance to those in need, providing rental subsidies for those who can’t afford housing.
All 30 federal voucher programs allocated for Lake County are already in use, Dever said.
The UAACOG runs a home-improvement loan program, where low- to moderate-income families can obtain a loan of up to $25,000 for the purpose of repairs.
“Our interest rate is always lower than the market,” Dever said.
The UAACOG’s self-help housing program is a way for low- to moderate-income families to build their own neighborhood of affordable houses. After UAACOG purchases a plot of land, four to 12 families work together to build their own homes, assisted by a construction supervisor.
“They truly build their own community; nobody gets to move in until all the houses are complete,” Dever said. “They help each other all the way through landscaping.”
Mortgages for the program are subsidized, Dever said, and interest for the mortgage currently stands at 3.25 percent.
One hundred and nine houses in Chaffee and Freemont counties have been built using this program, Dever said, but affordable land has been hard to find in Lake County. Leadville Mayor Greg Labbe entertained the idea that city-owned property may be able to be used for the program.
The 502 Direct Loan program provides loans for low-income families so they can purchase homes in rural areas.
“Our loan officer looks at their income and all of their expenses and truly makes it so they can make a payment,” Dever said.
Finally, housing counseling is also provided by the UAACOG, offering counseling pre-purchase and post-purchase, along with holding homeowner education workshops and foreclosure-prevention counseling.
Sarah Dallas, administrative services, said she was excited about the possibilities the UAACOG might offer going forward.
“My mind is going one million miles per hour, but I’m not sure why we would continue considering a housing authority going forward,” Dallas said.