Group wants solution to affordable housing

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— Encouraged by the success of the Ten Plus Two Accountability Committee, the leaders of both sides of the excise tax debate will come together Monday to attempt to settle their differences and find some answers to the affordable housing problem.

The meeting was postponed from its original Dec. 7 date because of scheduling problems. The Ten Plus Two Committee, which was formed after a school bond issue failed in 1995, galvanized individuals who participated on committees and subcommittees attempting to gather data and brainstorm ideas for building a new high school, said School Superintendent Cyndy Simms. Those people had initially sat on opposite sides of the fence on the issue, but because they all were committed to finding an answer, they set aside their differences. Simms herself was reluctant to partner up with people she had fought against, but she came to appreciate the different opinions expressed in the meetings.

A recent study by the Colorado Division of Housing indicates that Steamboat's rental market is one of the tightest in the area. The vacancy rate for apartments in the city in October was 1.3 percent, and the average rent was $768. That would necessitate the average household earn an income of at least $30,762 to afford its rent, according to the DOH. Steamboat ranked behind only Eagle County, Summit County and Aspen among central mountain and Western Slope communities surveyed in terms of its low vacancy rate. The DOH conducts a semiannual survey of rental housing vacancy rates and average rental costs every September and February, though this is the first time Steamboat was included in the survey. Average rent on a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment ranges from $387 in Fort Morgan/Sterling to $968 in Aspen. Councilwoman Kathy Connell has been adamant about the need for affordable rental housing in light of recent discussions about housing in Steamboat. Much of the affordable housing debate has centered around affordable options for buying single-family homes. Avi Salzman

"It's always really hard for parties advocating for an issue to hear what the other side is saying," Simms said. "One of the myriad of lessons we learned in 1995 as the group who championed the ideas is that you can't assume that you know all of the issues."

Two years later, a revised school bond issue passed and, soon after that, the high school doubled in size.

The champions of the excise tax issue hope they can achieve similar success through an inclusive committee process. That's why Simms and Bob Maddox, who had initially opposed Simms on the school bond issue, were invited to the meeting to explain the strategy they used to solve the school issue. Simms and Maddox were the "two" in the Ten Plus Two Committee, leading the struggle to achieve consensus. Rob Dick, the executive director of the Regional Affordable Living Foundation, and local contractor Steve Cavanagh, a vocal opponent of the excise tax, will likely be the "two" of the affordable housing committee, Dick said.

"I think people will realize that we're not as far apart as it might appear," Dick said. Dick was the No. 1 proponent of the excise tax, which failed by a margin of about 7 to 3 on Election Day.

RALF initially proposed the excise tax, or Referendum 2A, to the City Council, which voted Jul. 11 to begin drafting language for a ballot question on the matter. An excise tax would have been levied on new construction on a per-square-foot basis with the revenues dedicated to purchasing land and leveraging loans for affordable housing projects.

When that referendum failed, its opponents agreed to help work toward a solution they could stand behind.

"We need to draw on a lot of people from different backgrounds, not just one group trying to push an initiative for which they seem to be the special interest," said Ron Roundtree, a member of the No On 2A Committee. "The ballot issue might have lost, but the affordable housing issue can win."

Dick said the meeting is not open to the public, but there will be public forums as soon as the committee gets organized.

To reach Avi Salzman call 871-4203 or e-mail asalzman@amigo.net

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