Future owners of units at First Tracks at Wildhorse Meadows take a hardhat tour at the First Tracks construction site Friday afternoon. The Steamboat Springs School District is working with Wildhorse developers to create housing opportunities for school district employees.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Future owners of units at First Tracks at Wildhorse Meadows take a hardhat tour at the First Tracks construction site Friday afternoon. The Steamboat Springs School District is working with Wildhorse developers to create housing opportunities for school district employees.

Affordable a stretch

Teachers struggle to buy deed-restricted housing

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— A new cooperation between First Tracks at Wildhorse Meadows and the Steamboat Springs School District is attempting to create housing opportunities for school staff and increase teacher retention rates.

District Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said last week that she is interested in creating housing opportunities to help district personnel and to keep young faculty and staff in Steamboat Springs longer.

"Whatever we can do to help retain not only our teachers, but all of our staff," she said. "Teacher retention and recruitment has been one of our goals. We have had a hard time keeping them."

To help create the opportunities for teachers, Cunningham also has been in talks with local Colorado Mountain College officials who face many of the same issues. She is working with First Tracks, the affordable housing component of the Wildhorse Meadows development off Mount Werner Road, to give teachers information about their options.

First Tracks recently held an informational session at Steamboat Springs High School, but turnout was low, with about five district staffers expressing interest in the deed-restricted housing.

First Tracks targets homeowners earning 80 to 120 percent of the area median income, or AMI, but teachers - especially those new to the job - have a lower starting salary than that 80 percent target. While the AMI for a single homeowner is just above $42,000, according to district officials, the average teacher salary in the district is $41,000. The base salary for a new teacher just out of college is $32,900.

But that doesn't mean teachers won't qualify for the housing, said Mariana Ishida, development manager for First Tracks developers Resort Ventures West.

Potential homeowners still can qualify for the housing if they have an income lower than 80 percent of AMI, she said, as long as they can find a loan or mortgage from a bank. But that can be challenging in today's uncertain economic climate.

The AMI also is adjusted as the size of the household goes up. Eighty percent of the AMI for two people is $48,450.

First Tracks units range from $165,000 to $299,000.

Jenn Spurlock, a 26-year-old math and science teacher at Steamboat Springs Middle School, said she likely will not use the affordable housing options provided by the district.

Spurlock, who bought a home in Steamboat with help from her parents, said it isn't especially reasonable for teachers to buy homes on their own.

"Young teachers, straight out of college, are slammed with student loans and, quite frankly, don't have the credit and can't afford the affordable housing in Steamboat," she said. "They're trying to make it more affordable, but for service workers and teachers in Steamboat, it's not enough, especially when you include student loans and credit card debt."

Spurlock said she appreciates the district making the options available, however.

"I think that it's great they are now doing more to emphasize affordable housing in the area," she said. "But sometimes, the affordable housing isn't very affordable, and the median income is a bit skewed."

- To reach Zach Fridell, call 871-4208

or e-mail zfridell@steamboatpilot.com

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