Affordable housing tricky

City Council members debate developers' requirements


The Steamboat Springs City Council -- along with a lot of community members -- agree that the city needs more affordable housing.

The agreement about affordable housing comes easy. Implementing it does not.

The new council, which includes two new and two re-elected members, faced an agenda Tuesday night that focused on key affordable-housing issues.

In one of its first issue-related votes, the council agreed unanimously to hire RRC Associates to perform what is called a Nexus study to determine the relationship between commercial space and the employee demand it creates in Steamboat. The study and its associated costs are estimated at $18,500.

The study will help council members decide whether they want to implement employee housing linkage as a part of the city's housing effort. An employee housing linkage regulation would require commercial developers to pay for or build residential units based on the amount of jobs the commercial space would create. The units may or may not count as actual affordable housing because they would be for employees whose pay could range.

Nexus studies generally are included in employee linkage regulations, City Attorney Tony Lettunich told council members. The study can help the regulation stand up in court if a developer challenges it.

Council members agreed with city staff.

"It just seems like a necessary and prudent next step," member Steve Ivancie said.

The council spent most of the evening discussing citywide inclusionary zoning. If the city adopted an inclusionary zoning ordinance, developers would be required to include a certain percentage of affordable housing as part of their residential projects.

About 10 people from the public offered the council suggestions regarding an inclusionary zoning ordinance.

Lyman Orton, who lives in Steamboat, wanted council members to understand that some people equate affordable housing with welfare.

"I urge you to understand that there is a feeling that this is welfare," Orton said. But he stressed he does not agree with that feeling. "We're not talking about welfare here. We're talking about the future of this community."

Richard Levy, representing the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley, offered specific suggestions to strengthen the council's ordinance. He also expressed the urgency of the issue. City councils have discussed the issue for years.

"We need to get past the 15 years of talking about it, and that needs to start right now," Levy said.

Diane Mitsch Bush, who is on the Routt County Planning Commission, urged the council to focus on wages instead of annual median income, or AMI, when looking at what "affordable" truly means. Even at 80 percent below AMI, she said, a significant number of resident wage earners cannot make it.

"You need to look at those wages," she said.

Setting the definition of affordable for inclusionary zoning was one of the topics council members grappled with the most Tuesday. City staff had recommended that: "IZ units must serve incomes from below 80 percent to 120 percent of the area median income, with preference for 50 percent of units targeting 80 percent or below of AMI, and 50 percent of units targeting between 80 percent and 120 percent of AMI."

Early in the discussion, council member Susan Dellinger expressed her concern with allowing 120 percent to count as affordable.

"It's just uncomfortable to me to have it that high," Dellinger said.

City Manager Paul Hughes said inclusionary zoning will cause housing prices to rise because owners will use market-rate units to make up for the lower revenues from affordable housing units.

That's important to note, council member Paul Strong said. He said he was concerned that inclusionary zoning, if set too restrictively, could drive out middle-class residents who don't qualify for affordable housing but can't afford to pay for a house.

"I think we need to look at that whole spectrum," Strong said.

Elizabeth Black, executive director of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, said that is one reason the 80 percent to 120 percent of AMI unit language was included.

"We don't want to be the housing authority of exclusion; we want to be the housing authority of inclusion," Black said.

The council agreed to have city staff look at keeping the 80 percent to 120 percent language in the ordinance but to consider making it less than 50 percent of inclusionary zoning so more units for people who make less than 80 percent of AMI are built.

Another suggestion city staff made to the council is that the inclusionary zoning percentage should be 15 percent, which means that 15 percent of a development would fit inclusionary zoning requirements.

Council member Towny Anderson asked where that number came from. He said it seemed as if Colorado cities were simply picking similar numbers based on comparison to one another.

"It sounds like everybody just kind of picked a number out of a hat or out of the air," Anderson said.

Hughes said the council could not place too much burden on new developers to provide affordable housing. Raising the percentage may do that.

Council member Loui Antonucci agreed.

"New developers -- you can't penalize them for all the catch-up," Antonucci said.

Council members, including Anderson and Strong, also struggled with the concept of giving developers incentives or bonuses to follow the ordinance.

Lettunich said that providing the bonuses would help the ordinance hold up in court.

Bonuses for providing affordable housing typically include expedited permitting and height or density bonuses. The City Council continues to voice support for providing incentives to those developers who build more affordable housing than they are required to provide.

Tuesday's discussions were intended to give city staff, as well as Black, the council's ideas about how to shape an ordinance. The council is expected to revisit affordable-housing issues during the Dec. 6 meeting.


ColoradoNative 8 years, 9 months ago

Well they were confused in 2005 and not much has changed.


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