Affordable Dependency

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The preliminary draft of the Routt County Housing Needs Assessment offered telling statistics that underscore the benefits a multi-jurisdictional housing authority could bring not only to Steamboat Springs, but also Northwest Colorado.

The housing study -- which was funded by the city of Steamboat Springs, Routt County and a state grant -- showed that about 1,800 households in the area have specific housing needs that for one reason or another aren't being met right now.

Among those needs:

n An estimated 400 commuters -- most of them from Moffat County -- would prefer to live closer to their jobs in Routt County.

n About 870 households spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing, meaning they are in housing they really can't afford.

n And about 528 households are potential first-time homebuyers in a community that doesn't have an adequate supply of affordable housing.

"All of this really shows the community is not taking care of the work force," said Ellen Hoj, executive director of the Regional Affordable Living Foundation. "The problem is the cost of housing is exponentially going up faster than wages."

Hoj is right. While the community's demand for low-to moderate-wage workers -- cashiers, maids, clerks, laborers, teachers, carpenters, plumbers etc. -- continues to grow, the availability of housing they can afford is shrinking as home prices climb.

Obviously, more and more of those workers are being pushed to outlying towns such as Hayden and Craig, where they are more likely to find housing.

The most eye-opening statistic in the housing assessment is that some 1,500 commuters make their way from outlying counties to Routt County every day for work.

That's a lot of traffic on U.S. Highway 40 and a lot of time lost in the car.

When the concept of a multi-jurisdictional housing authority came up last year, officials from outlying towns argued against participating.

They asked why their communities should pay to help solve what they saw as Steamboat's problem.

But the number of commuters reiterates that housing is not just a Steamboat problem, but a Northwest Colorado problem.

We have long supported the creation of a multi-jurisdictional housing authority as the best means of addressing our housing issues. Such an authority would not have tax funding initially, but could seek tax support in the future for projects that the new housing assessment shows this area desperately needs.

County and city officials recently announced plans to proceed with a housing authority, likely without the outlying communities' participation. That's unfortunate. The communities of Northwest Colorado are interdependent upon, not independent of, one another. The sooner Steamboat's neighbors recognize that principle applies to housing, the better.

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