A recent study by the Colorado Division of Housing points to a problem that has largely been overlooked in Steamboat Springs and other areas struggling with affordable housing. The problem is a lack of affordable rental properties. City Councilwoman Kathy Connell, who is in the property rental business, has been one of few local voices we've heard speak about the problem.
It's time we listened to her and to what the Colorado Division of Housing has to say. A meeting has been scheduled for Dec. 7 to talk about local housing issues now that the excise tax plan for affordable housing has been thrown out. On the list of discussion topics at that meeting should be rental housing.
The idea of affordable housing in Steamboat Springs has traditionally meant housing that working people can afford to buy. But it is, we would argue, at least as important to make sure we are providing enough housing that working people can afford to rent. According to Colorado Division of Housing
statistics, that kind of housing is scarce and getting scarcer. Consider this: The October rental vacancy rate in Steamboat Springs was 1.3 percent and the average rent was $768.
The need for affordable rental housing also is
evidenced by the fact that relatively affordable
condominium and townhouse units in Steamboat Springs have gone unpurchased by local residents in the past couple of years. Part of the reason is that
working families typically are in search of
single-family homes to buy. But another factor is
that a significant sector of the work force isn't
interested in buying a townhome, but they are
interested in renting one.
While we support the idea of providing certain types of assistance to make sure working families committed to making a life in the Yampa Valley have opportunities to own homes, we realize not all people who come here want to follow that path. Instead, they see the Yampa Valley as a place to live, work and
play for just a short period of their lives. For them, affordable rental housing makes sense, not housing that's relatively affordable to buy.
Like much of beautiful Colorado to which millions of tourists flock every year, Steamboat Springs has become a service-based industry. The service sector has grown by leaps and bounds in the 1990s, and the the growth in service-related jobs isn't expected to drop off in the years to come. In fact, the Colorado Division of Housing estimates that between 1996 and 2006, service jobs will comprise the largest segment of the work force in Colorado, some 272,217 jobs.
Many of those jobs will be in Steamboat Springs, and we need to be sure we have rental housing that's affordable to workers or the workers we'll be able to attract won't be affordable to most businesses.