Routt County Planner Mary Alice Page-Allen is the new president of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority. She sat down with steamboatpilot.com for a chat about the agency and the housing picture in the Yampa Valley:
Q: Curtis Church, program manager for the Housing Authority, called Tuesday night's discussion with the Steamboat Springs City Council "cathartic." Do you agree? Why or why not?
Page-Allen: Yes, in some respects it was a discussion that ironed out some of the points of concern we've had, particularly regarding whether City Council continues to believe that the Housing Authority is a viable organization that can appropriately address affordable housing concerns in the community. On the other hand, it was also frustrating in that we didn't finalize what general roles and responsibilities each organization would have. Though there are many specifics that need to be further explored, I feel there was general consensus regarding roles and responsibilities and we could and should have come to a conclusion by the end of the meeting.
Q: What are the next steps in working with the City Council to define how both entities will work towards providing local affordable housing?
Page-Allen: We do have another work session scheduled for April 10th. Hopefully we can finalize the roles and responsibilities for each entity at that meeting, along with having a more specific discussion regarding the housing database. In addition, I will be discussing with City Council President Susan Dellinger the other topics to be included on this and future meeting agendas. Also, as soon as we can disclose further information, we will be making a proposal to City Council for funding for a project we have in the works. This would allow us to partner on a project together.
Q: Last month, Housing Authority Executive Director Elizabeth Black said the authority "doesn't have a spare five bucks." How dire is the financial situation, and how important is a successful ballot measure next fall?
Page-Allen: Our financial situation was an issue of timing and cash flow. We are still in the process of closing the last of the Fox Creek Village units, and once the project is fully sold, our cash position will be greatly improved. For the long-term viability of the Housing Authority, the success of the ballot issue is very important. Although, the City and County have agreed to provide us with operational funding for 2007, no such commitment has been made beyond that point. As a local government entity, we should have a dedicated funding source. Dedicated funding from a sales tax would allow us to expand the number of housing projects and make them more affordable for the citizens who live and work within our boundaries. We also realize that it is important to look at all of our opportunities for funding and not put the entire burden on the taxpayers.
Q: A recent survey on this Web site showed very little public support for a ballot measure to fund the Housing Authority. What has to change between now and November for a successful campaign?
Page-Allen: First of all, it would be helpful for the citizens to know what kind of tax they would potentially be paying, how much, and what it would be used for. The survey didn't give any information in this regard to allow the respondents to make an informed decision. Our plan is to use all of the various mediums available to us to educate our community about Yampa Valley Housing Authority (YVHA), the details of our tax proposal, and how it would benefit the entire community. In the near future, we plan to go to the community with a survey that will help us gauge the community's knowledge of affordable housing issues and YVHA's accomplishments, and the type and amount of tax they may be willing to pay and what that tax should be used for.
Q: Do you believe that a payment-in-lieu policy in the city's zoning ordinance could be a significant source of funding for the Housing Authority? What sense do you have that the city and the authority could work something like that out?
Page-Allen: When the City adopted its inclusionary zoning ordinance, YVHA made a recommendation regarding the use of fee-in-lieu funds collected, based on its successful use as a mechanism for funding affordable housing in other communities. At a future joint meeting with the City, we hope to discuss how YVHA could use any monies collected through a fee-in-lieu program.
Q: You said Tuesday night that the Housing Authority is negotiating with a landowner, within city limits, for a proposal involving 70 single-family residences. Can you clarify where that land is, or give more details about the proposal? What are the Housing Authority's other projects for 2007?
Page-Allen: No. We're currently in negotiation and not at liberty to say anything further. One project we do have slated for 2007 is a 38-unit housing development, Elk River Village. We hope to have families living in the project prior to 2008. Additionally, we will continue to provide Homebuyer Education classes, make funds available for down payment assistance, work on the development of a housing information database, and look for other properties for housing projects.
Q: Why is it important for the City Council and Housing Authority to provide affordable housing?
Page-Allen: When mid-level professionals, e.g. teachers, health care workers, police officers, firefighters, are priced out of the local housing market and must move "down- or up-valley" to find an affordable home, it impacts our community character. Wages and salaries haven't kept up with the increasing price of housing, so the free market isn't going to solve the problem. That's when local government should step in and become a partner in resolving this type of community-wide problem. In order to maintain a diverse community, families of all walks of life need to be part of it, and we need to take proactive steps to avoid the "Aspenization" of Steamboat Springs.