Steamboat Springs Affordable housing was the big topic at Economic Summit 2000. A roster of those in the room discussing the issue Friday morning at the Steamboat Sheraton would have read like a Who's Who of Steamboat. There were bankers and Realtors, City Council members and school teachers, natives and newcomers, developers and former developers.
The discussion was lively and several ideas on how to raise money for affordable housing subsidies were debated. Some in the group favored impact fees on new development. Others, worried about the legality of an impact fee, advocated a property tax. Still others, calling for a $4 per person "head tax," said employers and employees ought to help foot the bill for affordable housing by taxing themselves.
Though there wasn't unanimity on which funding option is best, there was consensus on the need to move quickly. The group felt that voters should be asked this November if they support some form of funding for affordable housing, although no one was ready to say what voters should be asked.
Rob Dick, executive director of the Regional Affordable Living Foundation and the leader of Friday's discussion, asked the group for a show of hands to identify who would be willing to help educate the community about the need for public funding for affordable housing. Hands went up everywhere. That's good for those who really want a ballot question to succeed because it's going to take plenty of work.
Dick also questioned the crowd about the direction affordable housing advocates should take. He asked the group members for their opinion as to whether any affordable housing ballot question should include a child-care component. In addition to affordable housing, being able to afford quality child care is closely tied to the ability of young families to live in Steamboat Springs. The idea some are pushing is to create a public source of funding that would subsidize both child care and affordable housing.
The answer Dick got when he asked whether a ballot question should address both child care and housing is the one we support: "No."
Increasing public funding for child care and creating public funding for affordable housing are worthwhile goals. Intertwining them is a mistake.
Gaining the electorate's approval for either idea by November is going to be be a Herculean task. But tying public funds for affordable housing, which seems to have majority support, to public funds for child care, which has not been thoroughly explored, will spell failure for both. And, in the aftermath, it would be unclear which component caused the issue to fail.
The first step toward putting an affordable housing question on the ballot is to refine the idea to a simple form that addresses the most pressing need. That means leaving child care out.
Divide and you may conquer.