TIMES OPINION

Restrictions on who can live in affordable housing units and under what conditions are a double-edged sword.

On one hand, they may guarantee availability of a place to live when market conditions place dwellings out of the financial grasp of many. On the other hand, too tight of restrictions, and nobody wants to live in those homes.

It’s too early to say whether a duplex purchased by the Gunnison Watershed RE1J School District for $590,000 falls into the latter category. Last month, RE1J announced the availability of the two units located in Crested Butte to staff, but thus far a process aimed at identifying the first inhabitants has failed to turn up a single applicant.

To critics, that may suggest there isn’t a need for affordable housing. But anyone paying a lick of attention to the local real estate market, running a business or managing a local government entity knows that’s far from the case.

Rather, it appears the dearth of hopeful inhabitants of the new, RE1J-owned dwellings are a reflection of the rules surrounding their use. They include a maximum of three years in which a district employee can live in one of the units with a lease that’s renewed annually — and could result in termination of that lease should a greater need arise.

While the stated purpose of RE1J acquiring housing is for recruitment and retention of employees, these rules paired with the relatively small size of the dwellings (two bedroom, two bath) appear to be aimed more toward recruiting new teachers. We’re not, nor should RE1J leaders be, surprised that current district employees are not climbing over themselves for a chance to reside in the duplex.

To district leaders’ credit, they were probably wise to purchase the Crested Butte property before the real estate market further escalates. But they still don’t seem to have a solid grasp on what exactly is needed to attract and retain employees.

A short survey conducted in early 2018 showed about 40 percent of Crested Butte educators were interested in employee housing. But the survey didn’t ask what type or size of housing those staff members would be interested in.

A single-family home? An apartment? And for how long?

After deciding to purchase the Crested Butte units, School Board scurried to get a policy in place dictating their use and who would be eligible. That was a wise starting point.

But now that the units are built, we urge district leaders to go back to square one.

In October 2017, former Superintendent Doug Tredway presented a document to School Board that deserves revisiting. The “Teacher Housing Road Map” was developed by the Colorado Rural Schools Alliance and lays out a six-step process for districts thinking about entering the housing game.

The first step — no surprise — is identifying the need on the part of teachers.

“Where do they currently live? Where do they want to live?” the document poses. “Who struggles most with housing, teachers looking to start families or those who are on their own looking for an apartment? These questions can help you figure out whether you should be thinking about rental housing or ownership solutions.”

Next, the Road Map suggests deciding whether rental or ownership, or a combination of both, is the best answer. Step three is identifying a location to build, four is finding funding, five is establishing partners, and six is adopting guidelines for who gets to live there and for how long.

RE1J has jumped to each of the latter five steps without fully addressing the first. Is half of a duplex even desirable to a prospective teacher in Crested Butte? We haven’t seen an indication that question has been asked.

We also understand School Board’s desire to be fair to teachers at both ends of the valley. Realistically, however, housing needs are much different in those two communities. A more thorough survey should shine a light on to what degree that’s the case.

Before RE1J steps any further into the housing market, we urge district leaders to return to the Road Map to understand where teachers are coming from: “Try to get a

sense of their successes and struggles before jumping into a housing-based solution.”

(This article represents the opinion of the Times editorial board, comprised of Editor Will Shoemaker, Publisher Chris Dickey and Staff Writers Chris Rourke and Kate Gienapp.)