Mike Lawrence: Separating housing wants from needs

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Mike Lawrence

Call Mike Lawrence at 871-4203 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com.

— The Yampa Valley Housing Authority recently took a bigger beating than Peyton Manning will give the Bears on Sunday.

A recent Question of the Week from this newspaper asked area residents: "Would you support a tax to raise funds for the Yampa Valley Housing Authority?" Despite the extremely unscientific nature of our online polls, this result was wider than any margin of error. Of the 315 votes cast, 81 percent were opposed to such a tax, compared to 18 percent in favor. The remaining 1 percent, presumably, were just trying to update their MySpace accounts.

The generosity of voters in Routt County, and particularly in Steamboat, makes the Housing Authority result all the more surprising. In recent local elections, "no" boxes may as well have been left off the ballot.

Local voters have been generous, approving nearly $30 million in Steamboat Springs School District facilities upgrades, an $11.4 million expansion of Bud Werner Memorial Library, annual tax revenues of at least $600,000 to provide pay raises for school staff and a property tax for Horizons Specialized Services.

So why say "no" to the Housing Authority?

Members of the Steamboat Springs City Council have been hearing questions lately about why the council, as a governing body, is working to revise city codes and implement housing policies such as increased requirements for developers. And as to a tax for the housing authority, local residents have questioned why their dollars should help other people buy a home.

"I worked hard and saved for years to buy my house - why should I pay for somebody else?" is a question council members say they're hearing.

"I'm sort of getting that the people of Steamboat don't understand why we're trying to create affordable housing - and many of them don't agree with the idea," council member Karen Post said last week.

The reason is investment.

"The 'why' is that, given the dynamics of this community, affordable housing is a public investment in our social and economic infrastructure," replied council member Towny Anderson.

"We are not being altruistic by creating affordable housing - we are actually creating the infrastructure to keep this city economically viable," Post added.

"Is the problem affordable housing?" asked City Council President Susan Dellinger. "No, not really. The problem is losing the middle class."

Or, to put it another way, losing much of the local workforce. Losing teachers, nurses, public safety officers, restaurant staff and social workers.

Teachers, maybe, are moving off Steamboat's endangered workers list. Not only did the $600,000 tax pass in 2006, but the Education Fund Board's half-cent sales tax could be on the ballot for renewal this year.

Last week, the Fund Board tax polled at 50-50 on our Web site.

The percentage in favor will undoubtedly rise in coming months, as Fund Board members raise awareness of everything their sales tax funds - and of how much trouble, real trouble, the Steamboat Springs School District would be in if the tax is not renewed.

The Housing Authority faces a much larger hurdle in raising awareness of the need for publicly supported affordable housing.

But at least the City Council, which plans to continue work on creating a revised housing plan for Steamboat, is clear on why that need must be addressed.

"I don't think we can manage growth, but what we can do is put in programs to maintain sustainable growth," Post said. "And I think that is our responsibility as a council."

Comments

housepoor 7 years, 10 months ago

My wife and I make a decent living and we have one child. At our current income we do not qualify for any type of affordable housing benefits. The only place we can afford to live on our income is Hayden. A few years ago a single acquaintance of mine who chooses to work part-time moved into his new townhouse 3brm2bth in west-end village for around $225,000, about a $125,000 below market at the time. He rents out a room for 80% of his mortgage. It's such a great deal he's cutting his hours back so he can ski more. The way the current system is set up it penalizes people who work hard and are motivated to get ahead. There is no way I will support anymore funding for the housing authority until they change their focus to helping people who actually are trying to get ahead on their own. Right now the whole thing is a joke.

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Bobbie_Dooley 7 years, 10 months ago

"It's such a great deal he's cutting is hours back so that he can ski more"

Sheezuz. Students of economics: what is wrong with this picture?

Does this fella have health insurance? Or is he gonna snap his ACL and take care of that by leeching on the public teet as well?

Sincerely, Team Free Market.

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Magpie 7 years, 10 months ago

It makes sense that we need to have housing for the lower income workforce that Steamboat needs.

I think that Steamboat votes down these taxes (like Referendum 2A a few years ago) because they aren't long term solutions. They seem to give housing to a few peope who then benefit from the difference in the subsidized price they paid and the full market value.

I am opposed to low-income housing that benefits only a single owner and I think many other people are as well. If it is low income housing, it needs to remain low income housing or the profits needs to be rolled back into low income subsidies, not put in the pocket of one low income family.

I tried to educate myself on the low income housing proposals and I always get to the point of thinking that it is low income housing for just the first owners and that this is not a viable, sustainable solution and it doesn't benefit enough people or really work to keep a low income workforce in town. If I am incorrect, then the people behind these proposals need to do a much better job of explaining them.

I would vote for a tax where the money would be used to create long term low income housing.

There is another question here that I think is under the surface -- are we talking about housing as a place to live or housing as an investment? Seems like what people really want is to be able to buy a house, even if they don't have the income for it, so that they can reap the benefits of the equity as the house goes up in value. That is now housing the workforce, that is investment income. It is this entitlement aspect that I think the voters of Steamboat are rejecting.

There have to be models of communities that manage to provide low income housing without the entitlements to just a few families.

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cheesehead 7 years, 10 months ago

housepoor, I'm curious what program got your aquantance a house at such a great deal. If he's getting a subsidy on his mortgage rate he's probably abusing the system and ripping us all off. Any idea if the YVHA or IRS know about his rental income?

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housepoor 7 years, 10 months ago

I'm sure he's not reporting it the IRS but how did a single guy get a 3bdr 2bth?

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cheesehead 7 years, 10 months ago

I'm guessing it was the hands on housing deal. The YVHA accepted anyone willing to to do the work as long as they fit the income restrictions. If this is the case, and this guy can cover 80% of his payments with one renter, then he's scamming the sysytem. He's taking government help (a USDA subsidized loan) to make a profit. Tell him he better watch his ass because he may not be able to duck in time when the sh*t hits the fan.

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Tigger 7 years, 10 months ago

Cmon, if you can't afford to move here, or you do not want to rent (renting IS affordable housing), there are plenty of other towns to live in. Why do people HAVE to live in the boat? Just move on.. I can barely keep our house afloat. I do not want to buy houses for others. We have bought a new library, increased taxes for schools and are in the middle of trying to build a new community center. Enough is enough. Move to Beverly Hills and ask them to buy you a house!lol We have alot of people making 10-20$/hour, sorry you cant spend 1/2 million or more on a house. If you couldn't get in at the right time in this town thats just the way it goes. Hayden is nice and affordable and still has room to make equity, buy a house there. I don't get why people just HAVE to live in Steamboat, theres plenty of other cool towns to live in. I have personally seen houses in ski towns, elsewhere, for under 200,000$. Sheesh. Don't panhandle my struggling ass! Join the Rainbow Family.

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