Steamboat Springs 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."