Bringing affordable homes to rural communities

Rural developers face unique challenges to increasing the affordable home supply
(Photo: Telluride Foundation)

Seasoned developers know there are many factors in getting homes built: financing, land availability, construction costs, and zoning and building permits just to name a few. Community acceptance is also key to ensuring a smoother path from inception to move in. In rural areas, developers of affordable homes face particular challenges that make penciling out development more difficult, especially in smaller communities, with greater costs for subcontractors, longer permitting times and lower building density.

But the Telluride Foundation is exploring how new capital streams and technology can bring down costs to fulfill a vast unmet need for high-quality, affordable homes for sale in remote regions of the state. Oftentimes, these communities have a wide disparity in housing stock, from older homes in poorer condition to luxury estates. Homes priced for the local workforce—including teachers, health care professionals and administrators—are nearly nonexistent.

Paul Major, president and CEO of the Telluride Foundation, explains that they are taking a long look at innovation in three key areas: land, construction and capital. The foundation brought on Enterprise Rose Fellow David Bruce to study alternatives to the traditional tools for building affordable homes and create a rural toolkit with detailed recommendations in each of these three areas.

Lower the cost of land

Whether in an urban center or in a community of a few hundred residents, land costs command a large share of budgetary consideration. The Telluride team is looking at nontraditional means of acquiring land for building, through the donations of underutilized lands owned by schools, towns or private individuals and companies.

Stabilize the cost of construction

Home construction in remote locations brings a number of volatile costs not seen in larger markets where labor is more readily available. Subcontractors need to be paid to come to rural areas for the work, or compete with subcontractors whose focus is on higher-end homes.

One way to control those costs would be to bring some of that work to the factory floor through the construction of modular housing or prefabricated panels. “Technology reduces costs and eliminates variables to create certainty on building process and pricing,” Bruce said. “Each site would dictate the mix of module versus panel, but advancements in both reduce the cost of the final home.”

[Related: Atlantis brings affordable accessibility to Baker]

Rethink the cost of financing

The types of affordable homes in Telluride’s rural toolkit are typically not a fit for traditional capital such as Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, Section 8 vouchers or New Markets Tax Credits. The foundation team is looking at a revolving construction loan fund model that uses foundation program-related investments and State Division of Housing funds to finance the horizontal land development and vertical home construction. The fund gets replenished as homes are built and sold to the homeowner.

As for most housing development, patience is key in successfully working with local municipalities and planning commissions. “We show up at monthly meetings with updates,” explained Major. “A consistent relationship puts minds at ease, and through the use of visuals, they can see how things turn out.”

The Telluride Foundation has four affordable home developments under consideration, with two moving through the process and the first set to break ground in early 2022.

For more information on the foundation’s work in rural housing, visit telluridefoundation.org.

Jennie Rodgers

Jennie Rodgers is vice president and Denver market leader at Enterprise Community Partners Inc. She can be reached at [email protected].

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