T he views of the ski runs on Mount Werner from West End Village are unsurpassed. And the new "self-help" housing beginning to take shape in the subdivision on Steamboat's west side occupies the front row.
It would be accurate to describe the half-dozen duplex units and the one single-family home as $125,000 houses with million dollar views. In Ski Town USA, that neatly summarizes the challenge of "affordable housing."
The "self-help" homes being sponsored by the Regional Affordable Living Foundation and the United States Department of Agriculture represent one of the biggest successes Steamboat has experienced in almost two decades of hand-wringing over the subject.
Construction of the new homes didn't require passage of a new tax. It is going forward thanks to a partnership of local businesses and government with the federal government. And it's the first of its kind in a Colorado Ski Town. Best of all, the residents of the new homes will gain considerable pride of ownership while working down the cost of the structures through 30 hours weekly on the job site.
The new homes are restricted to households that earn 80 percent or less than the median income. They make between $24,000 and $38,000. Subsequent sales of the homes are not deed restricted. However, the USDA can recover the grants if homeowners profit from a future sale. And when the homeowners' financial situations change, the terms of their loans are adjusted to reflect their situation.
Before the celebration dies down, the community should be looking at ways to help RALF replicate the success.
Gigi Dennis of the USDA's state office of rural development said this week her office has helped to put together eight other self-help housing projects in the state. The primary barrier to accomplishing projects such as this in ski towns is the cost of undeveloped building lots, she said. The price of land near ski resorts pushes the limits of guidelines for federal participation in housing projects. And it's the high price of building lots that makes it challenging for homeowners who fit into maximum income guidelines to qualify for mortgages.
The self-help housing project here, when completed, will attract more federal grants to our community, and the process is one that should be exportable to other mountain towns.
If ever there was a time for all the elements of our community to get behind an affordable housing initiative, this is it.
We understand that the self-help homes don't meet the definition of "affordable homes" by city standards, because they aren't deed-restricted to income levels in perpetuity. But we think many aspects of the program make it worthy of judicious public support.
There are a number of ways local governments could help to ensure this program's success. Waiving tap fees, reducing fees required to plat townhomes and reducing or eliminating building permit fees are measures that would all help future homeowners qualify for the next round of projects.
We urge our government leaders to give those concessions close consideration. The front door to affordable housing stands open, but the window of opportunity will someday close.