I am responding to Mike Lawrence's article titled "Separating housing wants from needs" in the Jan. 31 issue of the Steamboat Today. Mike's article was about a recent Question of the Week poll in which 82 percent of the 318 respondents would not favor a tax dedicated to affordable housing.
The question that was asked was the wrong question. The question I challenge Steamboat Pilot & Today staff to ask is this: "If you were to move here today, could you afford to live here?"
I am sure the overwhelming response will be "No." Many of us can afford to live here on the paychecks we receive simply because we were lucky enough to buy our homes before the cost of housing went into the stratosphere. The scary part is that the cost is likely going to continue to escalate. In fact, it is very likely we have not seen anything yet.
Jonathan Schechter offered a well-attended seminar in Steamboat Springs last December called "The Dynamics of Growth in Resort Communities." He highlighted that based on U.S. Census data, the median cost of a home in Routt County rose faster than 99.7 percent of the rest of the country for the 10-year period 1990 to 2000. Why? We are a great community that just happens to be in a very beautiful place with a lot of things to do. A lot of people dream of living here, and for most it will always be just that - a dream. However, there are folks who are fortunate enough to have the financial means to actually move here, and the law of supply and demand will keep the upward pressure on real estate cost for many years to come.
As a community, we place a great value on open space and our agricultural landscapes. We value it to the point that as a community we have agreed to a property tax to help fund preserving it. As a community, we value our children and have passed property taxes to raise salaries and upgrade facilities on more than one occasion. Twelve years ago we agreed to a half-cent increase in the sales tax that is used to fund smaller class sizes and up-to-date technology. We agreed to the taxes for land preservation and for education because, as a community, we highly value them.
Over the next 10 to 15 years, the most endangered local species will likely be families that actually live, work and raise their children in this community. If we value families both from an economic and social perspective, we are going to have to find ways to create the opportunities that allow them to stay. It will not just happen on its own. Just as we have found dollars to preserve open space and found dollars to provide for a quality education, we need to identify funding sources to acquire land to be used for "affordable" housing.
The issues associated with "affordable" housing are complex. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution. In addition, not everybody who wants to stay is going to be able to. That's life. However, without some funding source to acquire land for "affordable" housing, we will by default preclude the hope of preserving the ability for families to actually live, work and raise their children in this community. I fear that we may realize this too late. That would be very unfortunate for us all.
Scott L. Ford