Carbondale trustees are applying for an initiative that helps build affordable housing and workspaces for creative types in Colorado. There is a huge need now that the town has been designated a Creative District by the state.
We are in the passenger's seat of local artist Robert Burch’s truck outside of Carbondale. But we can’t say exactly where.
“We’re on like a county road, headed up through a bunch of trees,” he observed. “The roads aren’t great, just snowed. Sometimes it’ll open up into a field, but mostly it’s those juniper trees, maybe a few aspens here and there.”
We pull up to our destination, his tiny home. He describes it as a 7 by 10 car trailer with a little house built on top. It’s parked in a location with an incredible view of Mount Sopris.
Faced with steep rents and needing a place to live, Burch built his tiny home shortly after moving to town. Burch’s artistic mediums are glass production, metal fabrication and painting, so for him, this creative endeavor made a lot of sense. He said it took about three months to build. But the thing is, in Carbondale, these types of tiny homes are sort of illegal.
“If you call it your permanent residence, which it isn't for me. But I live in there enough,” he said.
Burch can’t say the same for many of his friends. Most of them are living out of a vehicle of some sort. He noted that the social and economic pulse to Carbondale follows First Friday Art Walks.
“It’s not fair to be able to exploit all the creative endeavors of the people that are in your town and do nothing to support them,” Burch said. “They'll just leave and go to a town that actually does facilitate a space for these people that need a place to work and need a place to live.”
But a solution could be in sight. This month, the town applied for the statewide Space to Create initiative, created by Governor John Hickenlooper in 2015. The initiative helps provide affordable live/work spaces for creatives in rural communities throughout Colorado.
“Space is really scarce,” said Amy Kimberly, the executive director of the nonprofit Carbondale Arts, about the town. “It’s hard to live here, and we are losing a lot of people that want to live here and can’t. We need development, and we want smart development, and a project like this is the kind of development that will provide opportunity in our community.”
Colorado Creative Industries, the division of state government behind Space to Create, certified Carbondale as a Creative District last June. Creative Districts are towns that have shown a commitment to the arts through businesses and the people operating them. If the town is selected for the initiative, there will be a market analysis to determine Carbondale’s needs.
“Is it one bedroom places, is it family spots, is it work spaces, is it studio spaces,” she contemplated.
But Carbondale has some obstacles to overcome in order to be the town chosen to receive this assistance. Jay Harrington, Carbondale’s town manager, said the town would benefit from the administrative support that Space to Create would facilitate through locating additional funds for economic development.
“We can't put a town-wide real estate transfer tax, which is a very logical way to pay for affordable housing. And we’re fairly maxed out on sales tax, which is our primary funding source. So there’s not a lot of money to both acquire land or develop housing from the public side,” he said.
Bob Schultz is the land planning consultant putting the application together. He said the town only has one shot at gaining consulting through this initiative. But he also notes that Carbondale residents are a resourceful bunch and that this is a methodical process.
“Affordable housing isn't something you solve, it's a practice like meditating or doing yoga,” said Schultz. “You just keep trying to get better. This would be nice, the potential for a substantial grant from the state, which helps with construction costs in our area.”
Kimberly said creatives make up at least 75 percent of the town’s workforce, which means a wide variety of Carbondale residents would be eligible for this potential affordable housing.
“Teachers to local food producers, culinary arts, media arts, publications, writing, blogs, design, web design, innovation, solar design, artists, musicians,” said Kimberly.
If Carbondale is selected, the town will put $35,000 towards the feasibility study. Harrington said there may be an opportunity to offset some of that cost with other grants. Paonia and Crested Butte have also applied for this region’s Space to Create cycle. All towns are waiting for a green light from Colorado Creative Industries to proceed to the next step.