Our View: Housing Authority a missed opportunity

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A multijurisdictional housing authority was an idea born out of the best of intentions.

After the proposed excise tax for affordable housing failed in the fall of 2000, proponents and opponents of the tax got together and formed the Two Plus Housing Committee to work on a plan that might help address the affordable housing problem because, even thought the excise tax failed, most agreed that affordable housing was still one of Steamboat Springs' biggest challenges.

The group, made up of people with diametric views on the issue, worked for more than a year to hammer out a plan. In January they came to the City Council and county commissioners with a five-page proposal create a housing authority that would replace the Regional Affordable Living Foundation as the driving force behind affordable housing. The housing authority would be different from RALF in distinct ways it would be able to levy taxes and issue tax-exempt bonds. In other words, a housing authority could have the financial independence to support affordable housing projects in a way that RALF likely never will.

Six months ago, the county commissioners and City Council sounded enthusiastic about the idea. A few more informational meetings and it looked like the plan might be a go.

But last week, the plan died. The day after 177 residents some in tears, some so anxious they felt ill waited desperately to find out if they would be able to get one of the 60 affordable housing units in West End Village, the city and county decided there wasn't enough support for a housing authority.

Their reasoning was politically practical. The recent community survey showed that while residents think affordable housing is a problem in Steamboat Springs, they aren't willing to pay more in taxes to solve it. And the surrounding towns largely dismissed the authority as something that offered little benefit for their communities.

So on Wednesday, the city, county and housing officials who had been meeting to discuss the authority did what is usually done when it comes to affordable housing in Steamboat they gave up. Officially, they agreed to put the authority on the backburner for now and perhaps reconsider it at some future date. In reality, the plan is dead.

That's unfortunate. Yes, convincing the public to support a tax for affordable housing would be difficult. Winning approval of any new tax is. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try, especially when it's the right thing to do. A housing authority is the right thing to do.

Housing prices continue to rise in Steamboat, reaching levels that are not only beyond the reach of low-incomes residents but the middle class as well. We talk about the problem often. Sadly, we keep passing on opportunities to do something about it.

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