Littleton's housing authority and Habitat for Humanity are forging ahead with plans to provide more low-cost homes in Littleton — with more than a dozen units sold so far.
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There are various metrics to determine what makes housing “affordable.”
Generally, housing is considered affordable when a person does not pay more than 30% of their gross monthly income (the amount someone makes per month before taxes or other deductions) in housing costs.
But affordable housing projects in cities like Littleton and others across the metro area have sought to build housing that is income-restricted, meaning that it essentially guarantees housing options for those in different income brackets.
These projects target housing to people of certain incomes based on the area's median income level. For example, South Metro Housing Options' Powers and Elati affordable housing development is set to provide housing to seniors earning 30% to 60% of the area's median income and will be restricted to this group.
Research group Root Policy identified four income brackets for Littleton their affordable housing options. These four are:
Extremely low income — people making $31,500 or less per year who qualify for heavily government subsidized housing such as public housing, transitional housing and Section 8 housing.
Very low income — people making between $31,500 and $52,500 per year who may qualify for government subsidized housing as well as rental tax credit developments or shared equity and land trust for homeownership.
Low income — people making between $52,500 and $79,900 who live in rental units from a private company.
Median to moderate income — people making between $79,900 and $125,800 who live in privately provided rental housing but are also the general target for homeowner programs and may be able to buy a home without assistance in affordable areas.
Affordable housing can also look different depending on what a city and developers want. Typically, housing is seen as either detached, single family homes or large apartment complexes. But there is a variety of housing designs that could support affordable housing such as attached townhomes, duplexes and smaller apartment buildings.
During a presentation to city council Aug. 2, Corey Reitz, executive director for the housing authority — now known as South Metro Housing Options — and Mike Kreiner, volunteer resource director for Habitat for Humanity, updated city leaders on two major projects aimed at providing for-sale and rental units at below market-rate prices in the city.
“In today’s environment with our affordable housing issues and just the lack of units, we really do need to be creative," Reitz said.
One project, spearheaded by South Metro, began in controversy after the housing authority decided in 2019 to demolish 12 of its units at West Powers Avenue and South Elati Street in north Littleton.
Part of a broader plan to sell off or demolish 71 of its single-family and duplex homes — about half of its public housing stock — South Metro has since moved forward with plans to replace the 12 units with 51 new one-bedroom homes.
Residents of the original units were given moving assistance and Tenant Protection Vouchers — similar to Section 8 vouchers — that can be used anywhere in the country for subsidized housing, Reitz said.
The new for-rent units will only be available to seniors aged 62 and over earning 30% to 60% of the area’s median income, Reitz said, which for a one-person household would range from an income of $24,360 a year to $49,260.
South Metro broke gound on the new project Tuesday and units are expected to be finished and on the market by fall 2023, Reitz said.
South Metro has partnered with Habitat for Humanity to renovate and sell the remaining 59 units of the housing authority's original portfolio, representing the second project that is underway.
According to Kreiner, 16 of those units — which are scattered throughout Littleton — have been renovated and 14 have been sold at about $300,000 each, meeting a key goal of the city's 2017 housing study.
The top three housing needs identified through the study were more rental units for those earning $25,000 per year, more starter homes at or below $300,000 and more low-maintenance housing options for seniors.
While buyers will technically own the home and be able to build equity, the underlying land will be owned by a land trust conservancy which will ensure the properties always remain affordable, Kreiner said.
Kreiner said the units have seen buyers that include a teacher, bartender, healthcare worker and retail worker. Some already work in Littleton and some have already lived in the city, Kreiner said.
“Now they’re going to get to live in the community where they’re working, which is very exciting," he said.
The proceeds from the sale of those homes — estimated to be about $10 million to $12 million — will go towards building more affordable housing, Reitz said, who added it could take a year or more to sell the remaining units.
Taken together, the two projects, amounting to 110 affordable for-sale and rental units, are a drop in the bucket in terms of Littleton's affordable housing needs.
The 2017 study estimates the city needs 1,094 units at rents below $635 per month. Overall, the study found the city to be in a deficit of 6,5000 homes.
Still, the projects will help address what Kreiner called a “woeful lack” of affordable homes in the Denver metro area.
The plans come as city council continues to mull passing an inclusionary housing ordinance that would incentivize or even mandate some affordable units in new home developments.
Councilmembers, during the Aug. 2 meeting, applauded South Metro and Habitat for Humanity for their projects and some shared their own testimony of how subsidy programs impacted their homeownership.
Mayor Kyle Schlachter said he was able to purchase his first home through a program with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD.
Councilmember Steve Barr said the land trust model helped him afford his first home and allowed him to build equity to buy another.
“If members of the public or anyone have questions about it or how it works or the ‘people who live in these homes,’ I happen to be one of them," Barr said. "It really was so beneficial to us because we were not just throwing money away on rent, we were putting equity into something … so I can’t tell you how valuable these programs are."
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