Saturday, August 20, 2005
The Yampa Valley Housing Authority's proposal to loosen the affordable housing requirements in the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan is reasonable and could be the catalyst needed to jump-start such projects in the area.
Given the lack of any development in the West of Steamboat area since the plan was adopted in 1999, it certainly couldn't hurt to try a different approach.
The plan defined a large area north of U.S. Highway 40 and west of the city limits where growth could take place, and an orderly process for annexation into the city was provided.
One of the plan's primary objectives was to stimulate affordable housing by requiring that one-third of the units in any new development in the area be deed-restricted, affordable housing.
Landowners in the area complained that such a requirement was too restrictive. As a result, there has been no major development in the area since the plan was adopted. Instead, development has leapfrogged west to Hayden. Meanwhile, lot prices in and around Steamboat Springs have continued to rise, and the gap between single-family home prices and incomes has widened.
Last week, Housing Authority Executive Director Elizabeth Black pitched changes to the plan to the Steamboat Springs City Council. Routt County commissioners also were present.
Black suggested that the affordable housing requirement be reduced to 15 percent of the units in any new development, with incentives for developers to provide more. Black's logic was that some affordable housing is better than none.
"Thirty-three percent isn't accomplishing anything," Black said. "The program has to be embraced by the residential development business. We felt 10 percent was too low and settled on a minimum of 15 percent."
The housing authority took the proposal a step further, rewarding developers willing to bump affordable housing to 20 percent with a 20 percent increase in density.
Black also encouraged City Council members to consider other financial incentives, such as fee and permit waivers, or reduced fees, for affordable housing projects. And she suggested the city consider other efforts to stimulate affordable housing, such as giving developers the option to pay a fee in lieu of developing affordable housing.
That's not unlike plans offered by Ed MacArthur to dedicate a portion of gravel sales to affordable housing and by Whitney Ward to impose a tax on sales of Wildhorse Meadows condos for affordable housing.
Given that surveys show area voters are reluctant to tax themselves to support affordable housing, such creative arrangements may be the best way for the housing authority to obtain the necessary funding for worthwhile projects.
We have said it many times before -- developing affordable housing to meet the needs of our expanding work force is one of the most pressing issues facing our community.
Unfortunately, it is not an easy problem to solve, and to date, our rapidly expanding real estate market has greatly outpaced the development of affordable housing. Quite simply, there is less affordable housing available today than there was when the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan was adopted.
That's an obvious sign that the plan isn't working as it should. The Housing Authority's ideas for fixing the problems are sound, and we think city and county officials would be wise to give serious thought to adopting the proposed changes.