The Durango City Council seemed open Tuesday to a lengthy list of strategies that would combat the housing shortage, such as reducing parking requirements, increasing density and allowing for taller buildings.
The councilors didn’t take a vote during the study session but encouraged the staff to formalize the ideas into a draft plan that can be released for public comment this summer.
“I think to flesh out what you’ve been telling us is the next step,” Mayor Dick White said.
The city planning staff laid out some broad housing goals and ideas on how to encourage more affordable housing, but acknowledged that there are market forces, such as the cost of land and labor, that they can’t control.
“We are a small piece of a much, much larger puzzle,” Planner Mark Williams said.
One of the proposed goals is to make sure homes dedicated to affordable housing make up 10 percent of all homes in Durango by 2040. These are homes residents qualify for based on their income and would be set aside as affordable for at least 40 years.
“I think having an articulated goal will help us,” White said.
If progress toward the goal can’t be made, it might demonstrate the need for more housing policy changes in the future, he said.
“Things become politically possible when publicly stated goals are not possible,” he said.
Some of the other proposals have been discussed for several years and were common themes during the recent City Council election in April.
Staff proposed expanding where secondary housing units are allowed in town and allowing multifamily housing in the old part of town, roughly the area east of East Third Avenue and north of First Street, which met with council approval.
To accommodate tiny homes, a housing option that is growing in popularity, the city needs to consider revising its codes. There are some mobile home parks in Durango where tiny homes are allowed, but otherwise, city code wasn’t written to accommodate them, Assistant City Manager Kevin Hall said.
Planners also suggested reducing parking requirements, increasing density and allowing taller buildings in some areas to encourage housing.
“Our residential parking standards are higher than just about everywhere else,” Planner Heather Bailey
In some cases, providing parking can be a large percentage of the cost of building a project, and having standards that are too high might keep some projects from being viable, she said.
To encourage density, the city may lower the minimum lot size for a home. Like in old Durango, where lot sizes are already below the city’s minimums and is one of the most popular areas to live, staff said.
“It’s not scary, in fact, it’s very desirable and increases property values,” Bailey said.
The city is also likely to change how it runs its Fair Share program. City law requires that 16 percent of a new subdivision be lower-cost housing. But developers have the option of paying fees in lieu of providing affordable housing, and in many cases, that’s what they choose to do.
Fair share fees have been used by the Homes Fund to help residents buy homes, but that may be changing.
If the city created a housing fund, it could be used to support affordable housing projects to help offset the cost of infrastructure for a large project or in other ways, Williams said.
Some of the possible funding sources could be an annual fee on vacation rentals, rather than a one-time fee, increasing the demolition fee currently set at $15 or adding a new fee on commercial development.
Another way for the city to help offset the cost of affordable housing could be to establish a land banking program, to set aside city-owned land for future development and either give it to a developer or sell it at reduced cost.