Steamboat Springs The Yampa Valley Housing Authority turned a $250,000 investment into the $5 million Fox Creek project, creating 30 affordable housing units for Steamboat Springs residents.
That kind of leveraging is something the City Council should keep in mind Tuesday as it again looks at its affordable housing policies.
This is the third time that the City Council has held a work session on revising its inclusionary zoning ordinance, which isn't even a year old. (Note to council: Perhaps this is the sort of due diligence that should have been done before approving the ordinance.)
The ordinance mandates that 15 percent of all new residential development in the city limits be deed-restricted affordable housing units. The current discussions have been about linkage, payments in lieu and where and when affordable housing should be built - on site as new development is built or somewhere else in the future. We appreciate the discussion, but we are concerned about the apparent lack of consensus and direction.
Unfortunately, instead of inviting the housing authority to the table, the council has chosen to exclude it from these recent discussions. That's odd, considering the city was a co-creator of the housing authority and that it seems the best use of any funds generated by the inclusionary zoning ordinance would be to help the housing authority accomplish its mission.
There are other considerations for the council as it looks at affordable housing policies.
- The council needs better data. Housing consultant Melanie Rees has said the city needs as many as 500 affordable residences to catch up with growing demand. But that doesn't tell us the kind of affordable housing that's needed. Single-family homes priced below $500,000? Multi-family rentals? Research should be a significant driver of the city's policy; we're not convinced there has been enough of it.
- As Loui Antonucci said at last month's meeting, the council must avoid over-reaching in terms of what it asks of developers. If the city's inclusionary zoning ordinance is too restrictive, then a policy meant to spur affordable housing will become an impediment.
- The city must look at its urban growth boundaries, its open space mission and its planning and zoning regulations to ensure they are conducive to - rather than restrictive of - the creation of new housing.
- Finally, the council ultimately must be willing to make some concessions if it truly wants to create affordable housing. Council members say they want affordable housing, but they don't want the city to have to pay for it. They want it to be beautiful. They want it spread evenly throughout the community. They want to force developers to absorb the cost. Something has to give.
We applaud the city for devoting so much time to addressing affordable housing. The availability of housing is critical to the future of our work force. But to make real progress, we believe the council has to change its approach.
The council needs better research. The council needs to engage the housing authority and partner with the development community. Above all, the council must be willing to compromise on conflicting principles that are in the way of new housing.
The city has to be ready to let go of past policies that have widened, instead of closing, our housing gap.