Housing plan gets rolling again

Developer near closing on property for affordable homes

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— Today could turn out to be one of the more monumental days in the short history of the Regional Affordable Living Foundation. By the end of the day, the nonprofit could be on its way to establishing a new housing authority and getting started on a previously stalled affordable-housing project.

This morning, Connell Resources has the opportunity to close on a 30-acre piece of property off Downhill Drive that is slated for as many as 83 units of affordable housing. That potential development, called West End Village, passed muster with the Steamboat Springs City Council in December 2000 but languished through 2001 as potential land buyers failed to close on the property. If Connell goes ahead with the deal, West End Village the first deed-restricted affordable-housing project in the city could get rolling within the year.

As in the original development plan, RALF would be purchasing half of the property and offering it to people who earn less than 120 percent of the area median income, which comes out to $67,200 for a family of four for 2001.

Local experts and city officials agree West End Village is just a short-term solution to one part of the affordable-housing problem.

A long-term solution, however, is also in the works.

Tonight, the Two Plus Housing Committee, made up of an equal number of proponents and opponents of the proposed 2000 city excise tax for affordable housing, will present the City Council and county commissioners with recommendations for providing affordable housing in the future. The group is made up of a diverse array of business leaders, housing advocates, city officials and other community members. After the excise tax failed at the polls, the group came together to try to find a solution to the problem that could be embraced by the entire community.

The group's recommendations begin with the creation of a multi-jurisdictional housing authority, which could help provide housing throughout the Yampa Valley. The authority could form under an intergovernmental agreement between the city, the county and any other governmental entity interested in getting involved.

A multijurisdictional housing authority could cover more than just the city of Steamboat Springs and the surrounding area. Officials in Hayden and Oak Creek, for instance, have expressed interest in the authority to the city, said City Manager Paul Hughes.

The authority would likely replace RALF as the engine for affordable housing in the valley. It differs from RALF, however, in that it would be able to levy taxes and could issue tax-exempt revenue bonds.

"An important thing that we want is to be able to borrow money at tax-exempt rates," said Rob Dick, the executive director of RALF. "We can reduce our borrowing rates by 25 to 35 percent."

Any tax would have to first be approved by the voters who live within the boundaries of the authority's district.

The authority, which might be made up of people who are already members of RALF, could also condemn property.

The Two Plus committee thinks the authority should put two new taxes or fees on the ballot as soon as this November, though the city claims the tax could be proposed only in an odd-numbered year.

The first ballot question would be an impact fee, which would charge $1 per square foot on new construction.

Bob Weiss, a local lawyer on the committee who spoke out strongly against the city's development impact fee schedule passed last year, said he finds this housing impact fee more palatable because it would have to be put before the voters. The city's impact fee, charged on new development to pay for capital items, did not legally need to go to a vote.

Weiss, who was also against the excise tax, said the committee worked hard to find a way to compromise and now it feels the city and county need to start acting to solve the problem. He thinks the five-page recommendation is a good place to begin.

"There are either meetings or there are proposals and then nothing happens," Weiss said. "We've been talking about this for 20 years."

The second funding mechanism for the authority would be a 1 mill property tax that would be levied on the area within the authority's boundaries. The housing authority legally can try to levy as many as five mills.

The City Council already endorsed the idea of a multijurisdictional housing authority when it was first proposed in the state Legislature last year by state Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park.

The rest of the committee's recommendations have been considered by the council in the past.

Although the committee does not recommend the city impose commercial linkage requirements that would make commercial developers provide housing for their employees, it does think there needs to be inclusionary zoning on residential development. Inclusionary zoning would make developers provide a certain percentage of affordable housing with their developments. It is already in place in the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan.

In addition, the committee believes the city and county should not impose resale price restrictions unless they are willing to subsidize affordable housing to a significant degree, potentially 25 percent of the cost of the home. Those price restrictions would make the owner of an "affordable" house sell the house at a rate that would keep it affordable in the long term, as opposed to allowing the owner to make market rates.

Hughes said he thinks establishing the housing authority would be a good idea for the city, though the city staff differs from the committee on a number of its points.

For one, staffers think resale restrictions are necessary to ensure housing remains affordable.

"From the earliest discussions, the city has taken the position that the goal should be 'permanently affordable housing,' and that goal is stated in the affordable housing matrix," Hughes wrote in a prepared statement for the council.

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