Just when the drive to provide affordable housing in Steamboat Springs is celebrating its finest moment, the future of the movement is entering a period of uncertainty.
It has been gratifying the past two weeks to watch families close on building lots in West End Village. Households that meet maximum income requirements will be able to get into a home of their own beginning at $170,000.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Rob Dick, the executive director of the Regional Affordable Living Foundation, announced he will step down from that post and leave it in the capable hands of interim director Ellen Hoj.
Dick, through a combination of charisma, sheer energy, perseverance and an astute knowledge of the world of finance, has had a hand in the most significant accomplishments this community has seen in affordable housing in 25 years.
During Dick's tenure, RALF acquired (through donation) the Hillside Village Apartments, carried out a $400,000 renovation and found a way to hold the line on rent at $475 for a two-bedroom unit.
When homeowners in the Hilltop Mobile Home Park were confronted with the very real possibility that their neighborhood would be sold out from under them, Dick came to the rescue, arranging $750,000 in financing so the mobile homeowners could acquire the park. Then he helped them through the process of subdividing the land so they could own the dirt under their individual homes for the first time.
RALF effectively saved 17 affordable homes at Hilltop from being subtracted from the local pool.
So what happens next?
There is an understanding in the community that in the near future RALF will give way to a new multi-jurisdictional housing authority being undertaken by the city and county. The new authority would offer the advantage of having the legal standing to go to the voters and ask them for a tax to underwrite affordable housing efforts. If the authority succeeds in establishing its credibility with taxpayers, it may someday reach the holy grail of a dedicated stream of revenue to support affordable housing.
In the meantime, Hoj is pursuing an intriguing project that would band eight to 10 families together to learn construction skills and build their own townhome complex. Hoj hopes to find a suitable piece of land within the city limits, and we encourage that effort.
Realistically, we think the future of affordable housing lies west of the city limits -- land prices within seven miles of the ski area are just too dear.
Among the things that RALF has helped us to understand in the past five years is that mobile homes are a great affordable housing product. However, the current model of mobile home parks where residents don't own land, but pay rent instead, is critically flawed. Without ownership of land, mobile homes depreciate rather than appreciate, and owners can get stuck with a worthless 25-year-old trailer.
If community leaders want to get serious about providing 75 to 100 affordable housing lots in one fell swoop, they might begin envisioning the nicest mobile home park in Colorado, somewhere between Milner and Hayden, or perhaps between Hayden and Craig.
There will never be enough affordable housing to meet the demand in Routt County. Striking a balance between too little housing and urban sprawl is our challenge.