As the City Council wrestles with the best approach to its affordable housing policies, we would encourage it to look at Steamboat Barn Village as a model for what can be accomplished.
Last week, the city Planning Commission recommended approval of Steamboat Barn Village, a 90-unit housing development on 39 acres near Yampa Valley Medical Center. Part of the housing plan for the development includes a condominium complex with 16 deed-restricted, affordable units. These units meet the conditions of the city's existing inclusionary zoning ordinance, which requires 15 percent of all units in any new residential development be deed-restricted, affordable units.
What struck us wasn't the majority opinion that the plan be recommended for approval but rather the minority opinions of Commissioners Steve Lewis and Dick Curtis. Lewis and Curtis argued the affordable housing should be spread throughout the development, not clustered in a single building.
"I have a problem with one big, multi-family building on one site being used for affordable housing," Curtis said.
Curtis and Lewis have a basis for their argument. The 2004 Community Area Plan states: "Affordable housing should be integrated in existing and new neighborhoods." And we would agree that, in the ideal scenario, different types of housing at different price levels would be dispersed throughout neighborhoods.
But what does "integrated" mean? Is it enough for deed-restricted, affordable housing to be included in the neighborhood or does every other house have to meet income guidelines? While the latter may be ideal, the former often is more practical.
The big challenge for the city is to ensure its policies are flexible enough to embrace the myriad of housing options that meet the community's growing need. A one-size-fits-all approach won't work for the city's developers or its families.
In the case of Steamboat Barn Village, the developer clearly is working within the city guidelines to meet that housing need with affordable condominiums that could be used for rentals or ownership. The developer also is working with the Yampa Valley Medical Center on an adjacent building that would include 14 units that primarily would serve as transitional rental housing for the hospital's work force.
In all, the Steamboat Barn Village developer is delivering 30 units - for sale and rent - inside a new development near the base area. Assuming the rest of the plan meets the city's rules, this seems like a project that marks meaningful progress on the affordable housing front. Rather than questioning the developer, perhaps we should be celebrating him.
Another project to mention - the Yampa Valley Housing Authority is trying to buy Fish Creek Mobile Home Park, which would preserve 68 affordable housing units that otherwise likely would disappear. The only problem, of course, is the agency's lack of funds.
As the Steamboat Springs City Council crafts policy that anticipates the kind of affordable housing it wants to see in the future, it should keep in mind opportunities like Steamboat Barn Village and Fish Creek Mobile Home Park. In chasing an affordable housing ideal, it would be a shame to let such practical, real solutions slip through the cracks.