Lots of work to do

Steamboat City Council begins to set housing goals

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— Steamboat Springs needs hundreds of new housing units.

In a public work session Tuesday night to address affordable housing issues, the Steamboat Springs City Council examined housing demographics from recent years, and saw plenty of numbers - some daunting and some encouraging. Presented by Crested Butte resident Melanie Rees of Rees Consulting, the encouraging numbers showed that Steamboat Springs has a higher percentage of residents who own homes than many other resort communities, which have higher percentages of renters than Steamboat.

"That's what sets you apart - you're much more family-oriented and stable here," Rees told the council. "You have much higher ownership rates than, say, Summit County."

But the daunting numbers showed that, according to a 2003 housing assessment study, Steamboat has a need for 400 to 500 new residences, simply to "catch up" with the housing demand created by job growth. To "keep up" with the continuing demand, Rees said, about 100 new homes could be needed per year in the future.

"Nobody out there has come close to satisfying 100 percent of their need," said Rees, who does similar housing-plan consulting for resort communities in western Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and California. "So why worry about what 100 percent is? You can do this incrementally."

Rees said Steamboat is in a better situation to add housing than other resort communities.

"You're not landlocked like Telluride," she said. "I don't see a lot of constraints to what you can do."

At least one member of the public disagreed.

"Where is this housing going to go?" questioned Steamboat resident Rich Levy, citing very limited - and very costly - available land in Old Town, and the challenges of new housing in outlying areas such as South or West Steamboat.

Rees and the council said the goal of installing such a large amount of housing - over several years - would be to increase the percentage of Steamboat workers who also live in Steamboat. A 2000 study, Rees said, showed that 56 percent of the people who worked in Steamboat at the time also lived in the city.

On Tuesday night, City Council President Ken Brenner and council member Towny Anderson said the city's goal should be a local work force of more than 70 percent.

The 2000 study also showed that of the 44 percent of Steamboat workers who commuted from outside the city, 40 percent said they would like to move to Steamboat.

"If you trust these numbers, we want to be somewhere between 73 and 75 percent (local work force)," Anderson said.

Rees said Pitkin County has set a goal of a 60 percent local work force but has not achieved that goal "for years now."

"They haven't budged from it, but they haven't made it yet," Rees said.

The City Council is working with Rees and staff from RRC Associates, a research and consulting firm based in Boulder, to create a comprehensive city housing plan that will set goals and install mechanisms for meeting Steamboat's need for affordable housing.

The council's next housing work session is Dec. 12.

Rees said that at that meeting, she will supply a written plan that applies specific funding mechanisms and development requirements to the housing goals expressed by the council Tuesday night to move toward an ordinance that would set city policies.

"We're taking this from a concept to a very defined ordinance," Rees said.

Council member Paul Strong was absent Tuesday.

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