Gunnison City seeks out options
to assist first-time homebuyers
By Robert Stevens
Apr. 19, 2018
GUNNISON—Gunnison Mayor Lori Nay and the city council are exploring ways to increase housing and economic development in their city.
Nay said, “One of the things I found when I was campaigning for mayor was that the people of Gunnison were concerned that no new housing or homes were being built, and they wanted to see our community grow along with the businesses that are here.”
Nay said she believes housing growth capacity is linked to economic development capacity and added, “So one of the tasks we have taken on as the city council is to seek out and find those growth opportunities.”
With options for new housing limited by the level of private development or by the financial ability to develop, Gunnison’s ability to flourish economically may be capped until a solution is found.
“We are pretty stagnant right now, with a really small growth rate,” she said, “and I think if we had more opportunities for housing we would all benefit. Our stores on Main Street and our services would benefit.”
She added, “We just need to have a healthy growth ratio. We are trying to see if that is something we can help along or if it has to be a natural phenomenon.”
To explore some of the options the city might have for improving its housing development opportunities—and with it, opportunity for economic growth—Nay invited Nancy Milligan, finance and development specialist with the Utah Non Profit Housing Corporation, and some of her colleagues, to speak in a special work meeting on community housing development last week.
The meeting, which took place at noon on Tuesday, April 10, at city hall, was arranged by Nay because she wants to develop a long-term solution to the housing shortage in the city. She also wanted to consult with specialists in the field who might be able to educate the city on options for federal funding, tax credits and programs like self-help housing.
“There are a lot of programs for housing and federal funding available,” Nay said. “Tax credits, self-help and so on, and that’s all just something we are learning about. I think having a quality nonprofit like Utah Non Profit Housing Corporation helping us can really give us some good ideas on what we can pursue. We are still in the beginning stages of exploring all the options.”
Milligan and her colleagues have either helped finance, develop or maintain more than 5,000 homes for Utah families with a long-term, nonprofit outlook.
The group discussed a number of options during the meeting, some of which centered on catering toward the employees at the Gunnison prison, many of whom do not currently live in the Gunnison Valley but may fit into the first-time homebuyer category.
“When we speak with our real estate agents in town, that is the gap that we are finding,” Nay said. “We think we could do a better job with helping the first-time homebuyers.”
The prison attracts a lot of employees but not necessarily a lot of Gunnison City residents since over two-thirds of the prison’s employees live outside the city.
“Out of nearly 480 workers at the prison, more than 320 live out of the area,” said Councilwoman Michelle Smith to the nonprofit housing consultants during the meeting.
Milligan talked about several options for creating a housing development using the Utah Non Profit Housing Corporation as a conduit to help research local needs, subsidize costs and develop.
Waiting for private developers to build houses is less likely because the rising costs of construction are up 20-30 percent over the past few years, said Milligan.
Some of the options Milligan discussed even offered a “rent-to-own” approach, where the occupants would be given the option to buy after 15 years, and their time spent paying rent over those 15 years would convert into equity which would act as the down payment to purchase the house.
Milligan told Nay and the council that in larger communities, they have traditionally had developments that cover most income bases, from lower cost rentals to much nicer, full-sized houses.
In large areas like the Wasatch Front, Milligan said they have the full range of options available and try to move people up the housing ladder—eventually settling in a home they can be happy to live in for their whole lives.
According to Milligan, if the city wanted to take advantage of some of the programs that help municipalities or first-time homebuyers get into a home they can afford, the city should do a housing needs study and possibly hold a public meeting to gauge interest from demographics like young couples who are looking to get into their first home.
Nay and the council asked Milligan and her colleagues if they would be willing to return to make a presentation during a public meeting to explain the range of options to possible interested parties.
Milligan said that was a definite possibility, but she recommended that if such a hearing was held, representatives from the Six County Association of Governments be present too, since they are directly involved with some of the subsidized housing options available.
After the meeting, the Messenger spoke with the newest member of Gunnison’s planning and zoning board, Jay Clayton.
“One of our problems is we are sort of landlocked in Gunnison,” Clayton said. ”Centerfield doesn’t really have that problem as much. Until more people are ready to sell some land to make room for development that could be a problem here in Gunnison.”
Clayton said if the city chooses to explore the housing options spoken about at the meeting with Milligan, he thought they would likely match the housing options to the income bracket of the kind of people the city wants to move in, like the workers at the prison.
“They are trying to improve our community, but they don’t want to lose that rural feel,” Clayton said.