Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs and Routt County officials have said they want affordable housing.
A little more than two years ago, the two entities formed the Yampa Valley Housing Authority to take on the task. But its success depends on finding a dedicated funding source, increasing staffing and receiving clearer direction about its role in the county.
The housing authority's board met with the Steamboat Springs City Council last week to discuss the city's new inclusionary zoning ordinance, which requires developers to include a certain percentage of affordable housing within each residential project.
Nancy Stahoviak, a county commissioner who also is a housing authority board member, asked council members what role the authority has in enforcing the ordinance. Council members didn't have an answer for her, and they directed city staff to work with housing authority officials to figure it out.
The inclusionary zoning ordinance is just one of the questions on the minds of housing authority members. If the authority -- which has two full-time staff members and no dedicated source of funding -- is to meet the stated goals of providing affordable housing in the county, it needs additional resources, said Kathi Meyer, president of the housing authority's board.
"If the expectation of the community is that all problems need to be solved immediately, there needs to be money and people," Meyer said.
The housing authority is born
The affordable housing issue was recognized by a city- and county-formed housing advisory committee. The committee's job was to determine whether residents wanted a housing authority.
They did not, public outreach showed. The committee recommended that a private, nonprofit organization work on housing issues. So was born RALF, the Regional Affordable Living Foundation.
When a state statute about multijurisdictional housing authorities passed, city and county officials thought the idea of an authority might be more acceptable to residents, Stahoviak said.
In November 2003, Routt County and the city of Steamboat Springs signed an agreement forming the Yampa Valley Housing Authority. The authority's boundaries include all of Steamboat Springs and generally correspond with the boundaries of the Steamboat Springs Rural Protection Fire District. The authority acts as its own governmental entity. It is governed by an 11-member board of directors.
The authority, which is led by Executive Director Elizabeth Black, has completed several projects. The Fox Creek Village condominiums are under construction. There also are self-help programs in Oak Creek and Hayden, and Black is teaching homebuyer education classes.
Housing authority board members and staff have been so busy, Stahoviak said, that important issues such as funding have slipped into the background.
The housing authority has been relying on money from the county and city. In their 2006 budgets, both entities set aside $60,000 for the authority. City and county officials, however, only committed to giving money to the authority for three years. This is the third year.
"It is time for the housing authority to decide whether to ask for additional funding for next year or whether it is time to go for a dedicated funding source," Stahoviak said.
According to state statute, there are three options for dedicated funding sources: a sales tax of 1 percent or less; a property tax of 5 mills or less; or an impact fee of $2 or less per square foot. An impact fee charges a dollar amount for every square foot of a new building. If the authority chooses an impact fee, it also must have a tax. All of these options require a vote by the residents who live within the authority's boundaries.
There are other ways to fund a housing authority, including fees for services, grants and funding from sources such as corporations. Those sources are not dedicated and therefore come with less certainty.
Another issue the board is facing is the city's new inclusionary zoning ordinance. The board isn't sure whether housing authority staff will have a role in carrying out the regulation. Stahoviak said that if the housing authority needs to play a role, it needs to be put in writing.
"One of the main reasons we wanted to meet with the city face to face was to make them understand that we want to be very clear what the housing authority and our staff's role is. That should be translated into a written legal document," she said.
Meyer also wants to know how the ordinance will affect the authority's staff.
"There is a fair amount of bureaucracy in administrating the inclusionary zoning ordinance or perhaps future ordinances. There's going to be people required to perform those tasks. If the city anticipates that the housing authority will perform those, we're trying to say that there needs to be an agreement because there will be additional staff needed over time."
Stahoviak said that as construction grows, there will be more deed restrictions to monitor. Deed restrictions are enduring restrictions that stipulate who can purchase a residential unit, meaning that someone will need to monitor such sales.
Also, she said, housing officials have discussed the creation of an ongoing affordable housing database that would track the housing market and housing needs. She said there is a possibility the authority also will create a deed-restriction database. And the housing authority may add a credit counseling program. All of these programs require staffing.
"Those types of things could be very staff intensive. I am not sure that the current staff has time to do them," Stahoviak said.
Many of the housing authority board's questions could be answered soon. Board members have been working on a strategic plan that will include information about financing ideas and future goals. Much of the plan is based on public comment, Meyer said. There will be public meetings to introduce the plan draft when it is complete, in about a month.
The future of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority could be predicted by looking at how other housing authorities operate and are funded. Last week, the City Council suggested research be done on other housing authorities.
The Grand County Housing Authority, which has been in place since 1977, is a public agency that operates in many ways like a private property management company. The authority receives some of its funding from towns including Frasier and Kremmling. Other sources of funding include state and federal money as well as tenant rents, said Jim Sheehan, the housing authority's director.
The projects the authority has are expected to be self-sufficient, Sheehan said.
KT Gazunis, director of the Eagle County Housing Authority, agrees.
"The way housing projects are supposed to work is that they create a profit," she said. "What happens to that money, if the organization is not-for-profit, is that they reinvest it right back into doing more housing."
In 2002, Eagle County created an independent housing department within the county. The department receives county funding for its nine staff members, the operating budget and overhead. Rents from properties pay for properties' overhead and maintenance. The county funds big projects using federal loans and grants, and newer projects will be funded using tax credit dollars and bond financing.
Officials are looking at changing to a multijurisdictional hous--ing authority, like Yampa Vall--ey, Gazunis said. She said that, under state statute, multijurisdictional housing authorities have the ability to do more than a county housing department can -- and do it quicker.
Like Steamboat, Eagle Coun--ty has implemented inclusionary zoning into its planning process. But unlike Steamboat, the county's incluzionary zoning and other housing guidelines are just that -- guidelines, not regulations.
The housing department has a role in overseeing adherence to those guidelines. When a developer submits a plan, the plan is sent to Gazunis for comment. Fire officials and county engineers also are asked to comment. Gazunis analyzes every project against the guidelines; sometime developers don't follow the guidelines and come up with different ideas that are acceptable.
Gazunis said that sometimes she has seven projects on her desk at a time. She said she plans to teach another staff member how to do the reviews.
Gazunis said she has faith in Black's management skills, but additional staff may be necessary for the Yampa Valley Housing Authority.
"This isn't rocket science, but it's also not easy, and your director brings a skill set that is not easily found," she said. "I think you guys have done a great job in going with your executive director. I think you guys also need to be realistic about what that work program is going to look like."
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