The Marfa Affordable Housing Committee meets once a month at City Hall. (Sally Beauvais / Marfa Public Radio)
By Carlos Morales
In their first meeting, members on the recently formed Affordable Housing Committee discussed the ins and outs of their duties, the committee and what their goals are.
One of the first topics of discussion: defining what affordable housing means in Marfa.
Marfa City Council member Natalie Melendez, who serves on the committee as a city representative, said the first meeting was an appropriate time to “identify what the affordable housing needs are in Marfa.”
In February, council members selected the committee’s four members during a city council meeting, which the Big Bend Sentinel described as filled with “contentious discussion.” On the committee are Zeke Raney, Lilliana Fields, Gory Smelley and Lineaus Lorette. Marfa City Council member Buck Johnson, along with Melendez, also serves on the committee as a city representative.
The committee didn’t decide on a single definition for affordable housing but discussed the possibility of sending out a survey to locals for input on what affordable housing looks like in far West Texas.
The role short term rentals —or Air Bnbs and VRBOs— play in Marfa’s available housing was also brought up during Tuesday’s meeting. Johnson told the committee that there are 109 Airbnbs listed in Marfa. She said she wasn’t sure on the numbers for VRBO, but said of the Airbnb rentals, about 15 – 20 were in single-family zoning.
“These are just some guidelines that we need to establish,” said Johnson. “If you’re in single-family zoning, can you rent a casita out?”
Fields, addressing other members on the committee said short-term rentals are “probably the most contentious thing we’ll talk about.”
Other topics of discussion for the newly formed group included the idea of a vacancy tax. That would possibly require any homeowner not occupying their property for a certain amount of time out of the year to pay a tax. Committee member Gory Smelley brought up the idea for a town hall for people to discuss affordable housing. Members discussed possibly holding the town hall at a church.
The group will have its second meeting on Tuesday April 2 at 6 p.m.