Your recent commentary on affordable housing was accurate and helpful (Steamboat Today, July 20). Whitney Ward's offer of 0.5 percent of his proposed projects' sales and resales toward affordable housing shows an innovative willingness to reduce the growing cost burden that housing presents to our teachers, nurses and carpenters.
In 2003, a housing needs assessment determined Routt County faced demand for 928 housing units. The study predicted that with that demand satisfied, we might anticipate additional demand this year for 163 units. (An average Routt County "unit" houses 2.44 people.) This demand is from people who commute but want to rent closer to work and people who rent nearby but want to buy. The study estimates that more than 2,500 people commute into Routt County each workday.
Because Ward's affordable housing proposal is the "public benefit" required for his PUD permit for One Steamboat Place, or OSP, how much does it help meet that housing demand? Unfortunately, the effect of the proposal is difficult to quantify. It accrues slowly, and it doesn't help us with the toughest aspect of affordable housing, which is the land.
Much easier to judge, and equally insightful, is the housing demand created by Ward's project. If we look at generally accepted employee counts for specific property uses, we can estimate the completed OSP project might need about 75 long-term employees. Each needs about 350 square feet of living space. That's 26,500 square feet, or about 10 percent of the OSP project.
So, roughly speaking, on one hand, we would need 10 percent of OSP just to house OSP employees. On the other hand, via Ward's offer, we would gain 0.5 percent of OSP sales and resales for housing needs. If we assume an immediate, entire sell and resell of OSP, and that the market value sale is twice the cost to build, our housing gain grows to 2 percent of OSP's cost to build. Our gain should double again, because we can sell or rent (at much lower than market) this housing gift as affordable housing. This generous appraisal results in housing assistance for 40 percent of OSP employees. More reasonably, the years before resells and costs of finding other land likely mean assisting fewer than 20 percent of OSP employees. Either way, the unmet demand for workforce housing increases, and commuting increases.
Whatever your conclusion, it is economically unlikely that each new development in the city limits can fully mitigate its own worker housing needs. But acknowledging the housing demand created by new development suggests we need to get specific about a community role where new development helps us with workforce housing. Otherwise, each new development will only increase the problem. Asking that assisted housing be within a project brings cost forward onto the developer, but given our land shortage, that seems prudent. Indeed, it's what we are asking our West of Steamboat landowners to do. By allowing extra project densities and smaller lots, the community can reduce costs to the developer. The task of adequate workforce housing requires a community response shouldered by as many as possible.
I commend Ward for his high level of engagement in this issue. His original proposal for transfer fees breaks new ground and should prove to be a very useful tool. More recently, he has listened to and is weighing the community's request for employee housing elements within his projects.
We are updating the West of Steamboat and base area master plans. Both updates call for standards to help solve the workforce housing shortage. In mid-August, the housing authority will be making an important presentation about other steps to house our workforce. The Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley will host a forum on affordable housing Aug. 22 at Olympian Hall. Hopefully, much of the public will join in this important, timely discussion.
City planning commissioner