Wayne Aston has a plan and he wants Grand County’s help. An employment bust on the Canadian border recently created hundreds of manufactured housing units that now stand empty. Aston, the owner of Black Oak Development Group, hopes to bring approximately 250 of those units to Moab to create affordable housing on county property. He presented his plan to the Grand County Council on April 17.
Aston hopes to offer units for a range of prices starting at $450 per month. He cited a report by Grand County saying that the county was approximately 550 units short of what the workforce needs in terms of affordable housing.
“If your [average median income] is $55,000 and we cut that in half to about $22,000 or $23,000 and the state guideline for affordability is that a wage earner should pay no more than 30 percent of gross, that means $680 is about it for what they should pay for housing. If we can offer rents of $450 a month, now we’re hitting a 35 percent [average median income] wage earner,” Aston said.
The units come in a variety of configurations ranging from doublewide “lodges” with 12 single rooms, six bathrooms and a common kitchen, to more family-friendly units — singlewide units with bedrooms, living room and kitchen.
“It would be an ideal property, in my mind, to put this kind of community together ... so what I’m proposing here is that we work together,” Aston said. “It’s an empty parcel that’s not earning the county revenue. We could generate new revenue for the county, we could accommodate several hundred citizens and the exciting thing about it is the cost to build ... would be about $25 million and we’re getting it for less than a quarter of that.”
Aston said that there is “fierce competition” for the units, and that the time frame for action is short.
“I have financing ready to pull the trigger on this so I can execute immediately,” Aston said. “I could execute on these units and start mobilizing within a week. It is totally contingent on where am I going to put it.”
When questioned by Council Member Curtis Wells, Aston said that he could not say for sure how many units would be offered at $450 per month.
“We would be prepared to deed restrict 100 percent of these units so it would range from 35 percent AMI to 100 percent AMI ... it’s [to be decided]. It would be a combination of what units do we have available at the end of the day. And much like subsidized housing, it would be income-driven qualifications,” Aston said.
Grand County Community and Economic Development Director Zacharia Levine was cautiously supportive of the plan.
“One of the more forward-thinking approaches to provisioning affordable housing in communities like ours is to develop on publicly owned parcels … Even though it is an exciting opportunity and there is to my knowledge some time sensitivity to it, my advice would definitely be not to rush into this and to make sure it’s not an ad-hoc approach,” Levine said.
Wells suggested forming a small committee of council members, the county attorney and staff to discuss the idea. Council members Mary McGann, Rory Paxman and Wells all expressed interest in participating in the committee.
“This is a good exercise for us,” said Wells. “We need to get into the habit to start evaluating these things because we are cash-poor but we do own land. That’s an opportunity for us to close that gap and this is something that we’ve been talking about for a while … There is some urgency from me, not to rush into a deal but to get this evaluated and not let a deal, if it’s in turn a good deal for us, get away.”
“We want to act cautiously but quickly,” McGann agreed.