Affordable housing, affordable housing, affordable housing.
It's a refrain among Steamboat Springs officials, who are confronting a need for workers coupled with a lack of homes that fit into workers' budgets. City and business leaders are tackling the issue with education: A forum series starts Friday with a session on the state of affordable housing in Steamboat. Four more forums are scheduled through July.
"The overall goal is to educate the community about the current state of affordable housing and the economics associated with developing affordable housing," said Curtis Church, assistant director of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, which has been working on the issue.
An important thing to remember is that the lack of housing is an economic problem, said Noreen Moore, business resource director at the Routt County Economic Development Cooperative. Affordable housing is serious business for businesses.
"That is our primary reason for putting this forum series on, to look at how this impacts our work force," said Sandy Evans Hall, Chamber Resort Association executive vice president. "It becomes more than a public sector solution; it needs to be a public-private solution."
The problem for employers is simple: They need workers, and those workers need housing. The solution is what's complicated. Some businesses are taking action, Evans Hall said.
Yampa Valley Electric Association assists some workers with home down payments, spokesman Jim Chappell said. That's partly because they have a job to do in Steamboat.
"We do occasionally have power outages," Chappell said. "To maintain service and rapid response time, we require linemen to live in close proximity to the office. Because of that, employees were finding difficulty getting housing."
Workers have to apply for the program, through which the energy cooperative pays 10 percent of the down payment. The employees pay the principal and interest when they close out the loan, Chappell said. A handful of the co-op's roughly 40 Steamboat employees participate in the program, he said.
Helping with housing is important for worker retention, Chappell said, adding that it's particularly difficult to keep linemen, the workers who set up and repair electric lines. Because of that, linemen get preference in the housing program, though all employees can apply, he said.
"If, say, five linemen apply, and we can only do five grants that year, they will get them," he said. "But I don't think we've ever had to refuse anyone who has made an application."
He said someone from the electric co-op would attend Friday's housing forum.
"We'll be looking at those employer-assisted housing solutions," Evans Hall said. "That may help other employers who want to get involved but aren't sure what they can do."
The Chamber Economic Development Council, Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. and the Board of Realtors are presenting the sessions.
"I really encourage people to get themselves educated," Evans Hall said. "If we're going to find some creative solutions, we need to educate ourselves first."
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