Bill could undo affordable housing work

Plan is scheduled to go to vote in state Senate on Monday


— Counties and municipalities from around the state are urging the state Senate to shoot down a bill capable of undoing years of affordable housing work.

Because of its potential for wiping away affordable housing tools in the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan, Steamboat and Routt County are among the municipalities strongly opposed to the bill, which is scheduled to go to a vote on Monday.

Since Sen. Mark Hillman, R-Burlington, introduced Senate Bill 154 last month, Steamboat Springs City Manager Paul Hughes has expressed concerns.

The bill Hillman originally introduced prohibited a county or municipality from putting deed restrictions or other laws in place that would require homeowners to sell property below its fair market value. The bill would allow housing authorities and similar agencies to put deed restrictions on affordable housing they create, but it would not allow deed restrictions on affordable homes built in the private sector.

Local officials said the bill is aimed at Denver, where its City Council passed an affordable housing plan requiring developers to include affordable housing in their developments.

Hillman sponsored the bill because he believes developers and homebuyers are subsidizing affordable housing through inclusionary measures like the one in Denver. But Steamboat's Hughes joins a legion of other city and county officials saying a bill intended for Denver would have dire consequences for affordable housing in rural and mountain communities.

"It could undermine everything the city and county has done so far," Hughes said. "If the problem is with the city and county of Denver, then take them to court. But leave us alone because it has been hard enough to work toward available affordable housing. They do not need to make the job any harder."

The Colorado Municipal League, which represents 264 cities and towns in the state, strongly opposes the bill. Associate Director Sam Mamet said he has heard from 75 to 100 communities that are against it.

"I have been doing this for 24 years and I am pretty jaundiced," Mamet said. "I haven't worked on an issue in a long time that has generated more comments, more e-mails, more letters from more people on all corners of the state."

Under such strong opposition, an amendment was added to the bill that would allow for deed restrictions on private-sector developments if they are done as part of a voluntary agreement between developers and the municipality, rather than a local government mandate.

County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said she feels the term "voluntary," and the way the amendment is worded, is too vague.

"That is not good enough for me," Stahoviak said.

Local officials question whether the voluntary measures would apply to Steamboat's affordable housing matrix, which offers an increasing list of incentives for the degree of affordable housing developers are willing to include in their projects.

Based on the matrix, if developers agree to incorporate affordable housing, the city can waive planning fees, allow for more density and, at the highest level, even subsidize tap fees.

But a larger concern than the matrix is the bill's implications for affordable housing addressed in the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan. Three years ago, the city and county adopted a plan that allowed for the creation of up to 2,600 new homes and required that one-third of future subdivision construction be affordable housing.

The affordable housing component would kick in if a landowner wishes to subdivide land into anything more than the 35-acre homesites allowed under the agricultural zoning.

Stahoviak is unsure if the bill's amendment would consider the choice of building 35-acre lots or complying with the affordable housing requirement as a voluntary agreement.

"The definition of voluntary is a concern to me," Stahoviak said.

The CML, too, is not willing to except the voluntary language, Mamet said.

"I don't know if this is a quid pro quo, but I don't a want voluntary (agreement). I want enough flexibility," Mamet said. "This is just not appropriate for the Legislature to address."

Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, worked with Hillman to create an amendment that would allow for mountain towns like Steamboat to keep their affordable housing tools, but still address the problem in Denver.

"I was working with (Hillman) to come up with wording that satisfies him and satisfies me," Taylor said last week. "If we clearly can't do that, it is a no vote on the bill."

In fact, the bill was originally scheduled to be voted on Friday, but that vote was postponed until Monday while legislators worked on its final wording.

Officials in Avon, Vail, Carbondale, Eagle County, Minturn, Basalt, Glenwood Springs and Telluride have contacted Taylor. All have opposed the bill.

Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland was one of the elected officials who testified against the bill while it was being heard in committee. Aspen and Pitkin County have 1,600 affordable housing units. While many are owned by the city, there is also a stock provided by developers who agreed to incorporate affordable housing in return for higher density.

Ireland points to his own house as an example of the problems the bill could create. Ireland's house was part of the deed-restricted affordable housing provided from the private sector. He purchased it for about $100,000, but if the deed restrictions are eliminated, it could be sold for close to $500,000.

"It is going to create a real ethical dilemma for people," Ireland said. "Essentially, if you buy a unit with deed restrictions, you are agreeing to limit the resale in return for a price. (Under the bill) I could cash out for half a million and move to Steamboat."

Affordable housing created by the Summit County Housing Authority won't be in jeopardy, Program Director Eileen Friedman said. But like Aspen and Pitkin County, hundreds of affordable homes built by developers willing to trade them for higher density could be sold at their fair market value and decrease Summit County's affordable housing stock.

"We are so hoping this doesn't pass," Friedman said last week. "If it does, it is going to be very difficult for every one, especially all of our locals that need affordable housing."

Locally, Rob Dick, the executive director of the Regional Affordable Living Foundation, does not support the bill or believe it will pass -- but he also doesn't see it as a big issue. He said it could even be a catalyst for forming a housing authority.

"What it may do, if it does pass, it may expedite the creation of a housing authority," Dick said. "The private sector would have to work hand in hand with the authority."

The amended bill stipulates that deed restrictions are still allowable if done through a housing authority or similar agency. Projects like West End Village, which is being done through RALF, could have deed restrictions. So could other future projects, as long as a housing authority or RALF has a stake in them.

A "stake" could be the authority owning a portion of the land or selling the houses, Dick said. For the city to incorporate inclusionary zoning, all developers would have to do is go through a housing authority or RALF, he added.

"It would make (affordable housing) more cumbersome, but it is not the end of the world," Dick said.


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