Saturday, August 24, 2002
For the past eight weeks, the Steamboat Pilot & Today has invested a significant amount of time and resources researching affordable housing in Steamboat Springs.
This is a complex issue and it is not new. It's something others have been trying to solve for years, and we are not so na as to presume we could solve it in two months.
Our goal was to put the issue before the community in a way that has not been done before. "The Great Divide Housing in Steamboat Springs" is meant to be an exhaustive and comprehensive examination of affordable housing, from the impact it has on employers to the perspective of oft-maligned second-home owners. The articles are supported by current data and filled with human stories, stories of real people struggling to find housing in Steamboat. The series concludes today with two critical elements, possible solutions and the community's response.
Among the things we have learned:
Housing costs have increased at twice the rate of income over the past 10 years, creating an alarming gap between what homes cost here and what local workers can afford to buy.
We are losing vital middle-class workers such as nurses, teachers, retail managers, firefighters and police officers because they have no confidence in their ability to enter Steamboat's housing market.
The cost to build in Steamboat from labor to permitting and fees is higher than it is in most places and there is little incentive for developers to build affordable housing.
The limited amount of land available for development, perhaps the fundamental factor in spiraling home prices, continues to decrease.
Such trends will not be easy to reverse or even slow. In some cases, they can't be reversed at all. As we noted above, our housing problem has been decades in the making, and it will take years to make an impact.
Still, there are steps we can take now.
First, city and county government have to be part of the solution. That means eliminating policies and regulations that serve as obstacles to the construction of affordable housing, such as the general improvement district tax for the West of Steamboat Area Plan and impact fees on new development.
Next, we need to put a housing authority back on the table. Local officials moved it to the back burner earlier this summer out of fear that residents would not support a tax to fund it. But a housing authority is our best chance to create a well-funded engine to support affordable housing, and rather than giving up, we should be trying to sell residents on its merits.
Employers need to continue to find creative ways to help their employees with housing. Local businesses such as the hospital, Ski Corp., Horizons, restaurants and others have levels of programs that can serve as models.
Finally, we need to do a better job of reaching out to families and educating them about the housing opportunities that do exist.
Throughout this series, one thought has been repeated time and again at least we're not as bad as Aspen. But make no mistake, we're headed in that direction. Another decade like the 1990s and our housing problems will be as bad as Aspen's or anyone else's.
Either we can accept such an outcome as inevitable or do something to alter it. The choice is ours.