Our view: Vote 'yes' on Referendum 5C

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In its short existence, the Yampa Valley Housing Authority has parlayed limited funding into meaningful affordable housing projects for the community.

Approving Referendum 5C on the Nov. 1 ballot, we think, will help ensure there are more such projects in the future.

Referendum 5C is not a tax. Rather, it allows the housing authority to "de-Bruce," or remove the revenue limits set forth in the Taxpayers Bill of Rights. TABOR limits a government agency's public revenues to the amount the agency received the year before plus an adjustment for inflation and population growth.

Such revenue limits effectively constrain government spending and prevent taxing entities from overtaxing residents. But the Yampa Valley Housing Authority does not levy taxes. Rather, the agency has relied on grants and funding from the city and county. In 2004, the agency's first year, it received state Energy and Mineral Impact grants totaling $160,000. This year, the authority's total funding is $120,000 -- $60,000 from the city and $60,000 from Routt County.

Energy Impact grants and city and county dollars are public funds subject to the rules of TABOR. Without de-Brucing, the Housing Authority always will be constrained by the amount of funding it was able to secure in the previous year. That's simply unfair and illogical.

The housing authority's needs change from one year to the next depending on the amount and types of projects planned. One year may require $1 million to finance a specific project; the next might require only $200,000 for staff and operations. TABOR removes such flexibility.

For example, suppose the housing authority wanted to pursue a state grant for $500,000 to purchase and renovate eight condominiums and convert them for affordable housing. Under TABOR restrictions, the housing authority would have to forego the grant because it exceeds the agency's revenue limits. That unnecessarily limits the authority's ability to meet the Yampa Valley's affordable housing needs.

In the past five years, the housing authority and its predecessor, the nonprofit Regional Affordable Living Foundation, have added about 140 affordable housing units in Routt County. The projects include 34 units in West End Village; 21 self-help housing units in Steamboat, Hayden and Oak Creek; 30 units in Fox Creek; and 55 apartments in Hillside Village. The 300 people who signed up for a crack at one of the 30 Fox Creek units underscore the demand for affordable housing.

In the long run, it is likely the housing authority will pursue dedicated funding through some sort of tax. Such a tax would have to be approved by voters. It should be noted that, if Referendum 5C passes, the de-Brucing would apply to any future tax.

But that's in the future. As it stands, the housing authority doesn't want to raise taxes -- it simply wants to be able to compete for a fair share of public funds that already are available.

Affordable housing is one of the most pressing issues facing our city. Fortunately, the Yampa Valley Housing Authority has made tangible progress on addressing that issue. Voting "yes" on Referendum 5C will give the agency the financial flexibility needed for that progress to continue.

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