If anything has been made clear during the past couple of months, it's that the city of Steamboat Springs must define its role in the affordable housing movement.
As it stands, city staff and City Council appear to be on different pages. With support from city staff, the previous City Council signed off on the $4.05 million purchase of the Iron Horse Inn, a motel just east of the downtown district. The intent was to provide low-rent housing for city employees.
The newly elected City Council, however, has balked at the cost of the purchase and planned renovations while also questioning a financial plan that shows a 10-year operating loss of $667,174. We believe those concerns are valid. On Tuesday, the council discussed continuing to operate the inn both as a nightly rental accommodation for tourists and a long-term rental property for residents.
The Iron Horse isn't the only example of the city's lack of clear direction and strategy on the affordable housing front. The city recently created a housing coordinator position and hired former Planning Commission member Nancy Engelken to fill it. Meanwhile, the city is contributing $105,000 in 2008 to the Yampa Valley Housing Authority's operating budget.
The city of Steamboat Springs and Routt County created the multi-jurisdictional Housing Authority in 2003 for the purpose of financing, constructing and managing housing projects and programs. With limited budget and staffing, the Housing Authority has done an admirable job fulfilling that mission. Housing Authority projects have included West End Village, Fox Creek Village, the acquisition of Fish Creek Mobile Home Park and Elk River Village. It also has overseen several self-help housing programs in Oak Creek and Hayden.
As City Manager Alan Lanning pointed out last week, the success of affordable housing programs comes down to money. The city now has revenue streams in place, but there's clearly a strong hesitation toward sharing those funds with the Housing Authority.
And perhaps that's the right approach, if the city comes out with a clear strategy for what they want to accomplish with affordable housing, and how they plan to accomplish it.
Lanning says Engelken will be instrumental in developing an affordable housing strategy. He also says a number of agencies, including the Housing Authority, need to be involved in this community-wide endeavor.
Lanning appears to very much want to be in the housing business. Conversely, City Council President Loui Antonucci said this summer the city has no business in the housing business.
Which one will it be? Only the city can decide, but it's a decision that can't be put off any longer. Give us a clear strategy, and send a clear message to the Housing Authority. Until that time, we're left to scratch our heads at the duplication of efforts.