It is good to see the Steamboat Springs City Council and the Yampa Valley Housing Authority start to hash out their differences.
We hope, for the sake of progress on affordable housing in the Yampa Valley, they are on the path toward lasting peace.
The council has spent much of the past six months working to revamp its housing policies. The Housing Authority has spent much of the past six months developing a strategy to seek a tax. At a time when both agencies should have been talking more than ever, they instead proceeded down independent paths. There was even brief discussion that the city would form its own housing department.
But last week, the council and the Housing Authority spent three hours talking things out.
"I think some hard things were said tonight, and I think that cleared the air," said Cindy Brown, who facilitated the discussion. "I don't know that we finished anything, but it's a good step forward for future meetings."
There were areas of agreement - such as sharing responsibilities for funding and land acquisitions, allowing the council to create housing policy and regulations, enabling the Housing Authority to collect and maintain data of local affordable housing, and working together on a "pilot project."
Unfortunately, the two groups did not reach final decisions on the two major issues - clarifying roles and establishing funding structures. We think both are critical for the future.
The city created the Housing Authority in conjunction with Routt County. Now, the City Council has to have the faith and trust in the authority to do its job. The authority already has shown, through projects such as self-help housing and Fox Creek, that it can leverage public dollars into much-needed affordable housing units. The city must make sure its policies do not compete with or hinder the authority's mission.
What the authority needs is funding. But its plans to seek a tax are a long shot at best. Survey after survey has shown that Steamboat voters are reluctant to pay property or sales taxes to fund affordable housing. You can't blame the authority for trying - it seems almost a foregone conclusion that the authority will try to put a tax on the ballot this fall - but there better be a backup plan.
One backup plan is to work with the city on housing policies that might provide funds for affordable housing projects. We support the city's consideration of allowing developers to make "payments in lieu" of building affordable housing on site of projects in the city limits. We believe such payments could create a pool of funds that the Housing Authority could use to create housing opportunities for working families in the surrounding area.
Affordable housing is an increasingly difficult issue to solve, given our ever-burgeoning real estate market and decreasing availability of developable lots. The truth is, there likely is no single solution.
But the city and the Housing Authority already have tools in place to at least make some progress. It's time for them to start working together to use those tools, because while a dozen affordable units here and there won't fix the problem, it's a heck of a lot better than nothing.