YVHA struggles with budget

Housing Authority faces tough decisions for 2009 finances

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— The Yampa Valley Housing Authority faces tough decisions in the weeks ahead as it considers its financial future and prepares a 2009 budget.

At a Thursday meeting of the Housing Authority's board of directors, two schools of thought emerged regarding a strategy for 2009. One was a major reorganization of the Housing Authority that would cut its operations to a bare minimum and save money. Others felt the authority should "go for broke" and do as much as possible in 2009 in hopes that the organization would prove its worth to Routt County voters, who might provide it a dedicated funding source, in turn, at next year's ballot box.

Under the "bare-bones" approach, the Housing Authority would reduce its staff to one asset/program manager. The Housing Authority is staffed by Executive Director Donna Howell, Assistant Director Curtis Church and a housing qualifications expert. The authority already has put the hiring of an office manager on hold. Board member Tony Seaver referred to the approach as a "survival mode."

"This is a major reorganization of the entity," Housing Authority President Mary Alice Page-Allen said. "It's just holding water. That's all it's doing."

The Housing Authority might not even be able to do that, some noted, because the city of Steamboat Springs and Routt County have not yet approved their contributions to the organization.

"If we don't get funding from the city and county, in whatever form, we're done," Page-Allen said.

Although Steamboat Springs City Councilman Scott Myller and Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said city and county contributions to the authority were not in jeopardy for 2009, Stahoviak said they could be in future years. The two governments plan to contribute $80,000 apiece in 2009. Stahoviak said 2009 might be the year to seek a voter-approved mill levy to sustain the authority.

"If the citizens of this community are not willing to support this Housing Authority, then this Housing Authority should cease to exist," Stahoviak said. "This needs to be our do or die year."

Seaver agreed.

"We either win, or we're down to zero and we shut out the lights," he said. "It's crunch time."

Board member Catherine Carson was the only one in the room to express any optimism that voters might have an appetite for a mill levy to fund the Housing Authority by approval next year. The authority has considered a ballot measure before but abandoned it when studies showed it probably would fail.

Project could stall

After Thursday's meeting, Howell said the Housing Authority also is considering a new plan for its Elk River Village project. The 34-unit project planned for Steamboat's near west side was approved by the city earlier this year, but it has been put on hold. Howell said it might not be possible to finance the project as one that would provide for-sale housing.

"We're in a real, real tough lending market," Howell said.

Instead, the Housing Authority is exploring the possibility of making Elk River Village a tax-credit rental project, which would allow the authority to seek long-term financing rather than short-term construction financing.

The Housing Authority also is considering divesting itself of the Elk River Village property. The projected 2008 expenditure for the Elk River Village loan is $88,692.

The Housing Authority continues to explore ownership opportunities for the tenants of Fish Creek Mobile Home Park, which the Housing Authority purchased last year with the help of a loan from the city of Steamboat Springs. Howell said the authority is considering turning the park into a "resident-owned community," which would be similar to a homeowners' association. Under the scenario, the park's residents would apply their rents toward a loan to purchase the park from the Housing Authority. They would own their homes, but the land would be owned collectively. A preliminary plan to allow the residents to transition into ownership of their own individual lots has been abandoned, Howell said, because of the irregular nature of the lots and that some homes are located in the Fish Creek floodway.

"We couldn't convert it to individual ownership without eliminating a number of the homes," Howell said.

The Housing Authority's next board meeting is a daylong retreat Oct. 31.

To reach Brandon Gee, call 871-4210

or e-mail bgee@steamboatpilot.com

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