Linkage program idea presented to city

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— City Council expressed its concern that Steamboat Springs is behind the ball in terms of implementing a housing linkage policy Tuesday night, as council members pointed to other cities such as Snowmass Village that have already reaped some of the benefits of the program.

After City Manager Paul Hughes presented council with his research on a possible linkage program that would make business owners pay for some of the housing needs they generate, council directed him to move ahead as soon as possible with a proposal. As soon as possible, said Councilman Ken Brenner, means next week, when Hughes and a consultant will have to work out the details of the program and present them to council.

The details include figuring out just how many employees are generated by new development in various industries and then deciding what percentage of those new employees must be housed by the business owner. That doesn't mean the owner would have to pay for the employees' housing, but it would mean he would have to find a way to create affordable housing for the employees.

No jurisdictions demand that new employers provide 100 percent of their employees with housing. In mountain communities in Colorado such as Steamboat Springs, the highest percentage is 60 percent, implemented in Aspen and Snowmass.

The percentage of employees that must be provided housing is based on the needs of workers in the community, but it is also very subjective, Hughes said.

"It's scientific, but it's also political because the community needs to decide how much is strictly the responsibility of employers and how much is the responsibility of the rest of the community," Hughes said.

There are a number of ways an employer can fulfill the housing requirement in other communities. Oftentimes, the owner can team with other business owners to buy or build a multi-family development or he can add apartments onto his business. Some jurisdictions allow owners to submit a cash payment or buy land in lieu of creating residences.

As with impact fees, the city must establish a connection between new development and the need for housing before it can impose the program on new businesses. It would not affect current businesses, said City Attorney Tony Lettunich.

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