The time to act is now

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If we are to seriously discuss affordable housing solutions, it is appropriate to talk about a tax on growth. Growth in the number of large houses and luxury townhomes is what has pushed the local housing market to the dizzying heights it is at now. It is the major reason many working people in Steamboat Springs have little chance of ever owning a home in the city.

The sad part is that whatever chance they do have is

slipping further away each day. That's because the gap between what people are making and the price of homes is widening at a rate never before seen. The latest Community Indicators report compiled by Yampa Valley Partners puts the disparity in black and white: In 1998 the average wage in Routt County was $24,888 while the median home price was $238,271.

But that's not even the discouraging part. Between 1998 and 1999, the median home price, as figured by Yampa Valley Partners, rose 37 percent from $238,271 to $326,439. The average wage for 1999 wasn't calculated, but over the previous four years, the most that wages rose was 6 percent. So while that median house price went up $88,168, the average wage went up $1,991. And, clearly, raising wages in an attempt to keep pace with home price inflation would be financial suicide for any local

business.

The truth in the report is inescapable and depressing. It's becoming less and less of a legitimate argument to say: "I scrimped and saved and worked hard and because of that I was eventually able to buy a house in Steamboat Springs. Everyone else should be able to do the same."

Referendum 2A would tax new construction in Steamboat Springs. For single-family homes, the rate is $2 per square foot for each square foot above 1,300. For commercial projects and multifamily developments there is no exemption, so all the square footage is taxed. In either scenario, the tax amounts to a small percentage of the final price tag. For example, using a very

conservative estimate of $125 per square foot, a 3,000-square-foot home would cost $375,000 to build. The excise tax on that house would be $3,400, or less than 1 percent. Appropriately, if the house were smaller, the excise tax percentage would drop

as well. One point of concern for us, however, is the excise tax's significant impact on new commercial construction. However,

we believe affordable housing contributes to a more stable work force, reducing turnover and related costs.

One of the foundational arguments put forward by the

opposition to 2A is that the plan provides no details as to how the excise tax revenue will be spent.

We say that's a good thing. Flexibility is what you want when it comes to affordable housing development.

The Regional Affordable Living Foundation and other

proponents of 2A don't want to see "housing projects" built; they want to buy land to encourage the integration of affordable homes into old, new and yet-to-be neighborhoods of Steamboat Springs. Rigid rules about how, where and when money can be spent for affordable housing are what lead to housing projects and leaden, ineffective bureaucracy.

Referendum 2A also requires the development of sustainable affordable housing. A project that would allow homeowners to reap quick profits and remove homes from the affordable market would not be sustainable and would not be approved. It will be

up to elected City Council members during public hearings to pick the right developments that guarantee sustainable affordable housing.

Referendum 2A is a logical, flexible answer to many

affordable housing questions. Moreover, it is even built with a self-destruct button that can be pushed if someone comes up with a better plan.

Referendum 2A will not provide charity for ski bums or new arrivals. It will provide a chance for the working class of Steamboat Springs. The idea is to help that person who sat next to you at the last PTA meeting or in church last Sunday. By helping that person buy a home of his or her own, we are investing in our community and we are all better for it.

The time to make that investment is now before home prices jump another 37 percent. The way to pay for it is with a tax on growth. As a community, it's time to stop fighting about

affordable housing and take a significant step to make a

difference.

A "yes" vote on 2A is a step in the right direction.

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