For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C. private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C. private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Rob Douglas: Suspend the affordable housing ordinance

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Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Douglas here.

The Steamboat Springs City Council meets next week to debate and decide the future of the city's affordable housing ordinance. Given the uncertain future of our local economy, the council should compromise between the ideologies entrenched on opposite sides of the issue.

On one side of the affordable housing divide are folks who believe the law should be repealed so the free market can work. They want to remove the financial burden to fund affordable housing that the law imposes exclusively and inequitably on business and home owners constructing new buildings in Steamboat.

The other side consists of those who believe the free market has failed to provide sufficient affordable housing within Steamboat for all but the wealthy. They want the law maintained in order to force business and home owners building in Steamboat to subsidize homes within the city limits for those unable to afford them.

Fortunately, there is a middle ground between those two diametrically opposed camps - and it is upon that hill that City Council should plant Steamboat's flag.

The council should suspend the affordable housing ordinance indefinitely while our economy heals. Only time will reveal what the new "normal" will be when it comes to housing costs in Steamboat and across Routt County.

Admittedly, a temporary remedy will satisfy few.

Proponents of the affordable housing ordinance will be unhappy as they believe the law needs more time to demonstrate viability. They believe the economic downturn is the reason affordable housing units currently in various stages of the pipeline are not selling. Further, they argue, the local real estate market is bound to reignite and overheat in the near future, leading once again to affordability issues.

Those who place their economic faith in free markets will be equally dismayed, as they believe the free market currently is working. They argue that the escalating affordable housing shortage of the past decade and the current economic collapse are the result of a housing market and economy artificially inflated by Washington and Wall Street. Those economies now are predictably crashing because of free market forces that no longer can be thwarted.

This contingent believes real estate prices will continue to decline - resulting in increased affordability for qualified buyers approved under historically sound lending practices - as economic equilibrium returns to sustainable norms pre-dating the tech and real estate bubbles that fueled hyper-inflated real estate valuations for the past decade.

But although there will be much grumbling from across affordable housing's philosophical divide as each side sees a battle worth winning, the council would be well-advised to ignore those polar opposites by temporarily suspending the ordinance until the thick fog of the economic crisis lifts.

Given that no one on either side of the argument can deny the current global fiscal conflagration is harming our local economy - and subsequently the ability of businesses and homeowners to grow and build - the council needs to take every step possible to temporarily remove any burden or obstacle to that economic development. By suspending the ordinance, those currently caught in the unintended consequences of the law - often referred to by the City Council as "affordable housing guinea pigs" - may be able to salvage projects currently endangered.

When the current crisis eases and enough time passes to allow for reasoned evaluation of the real estate market across the entire valley, the issue of legislating affordability can be revisited in light of what undoubtedly will be new real estate valuations coupled with new lending standards impacting builders and buyers alike.

And when that day arrives, the council should legislate with an eye toward a statute that will be equitable and viable in the worst of times - not just when the real estate market is at historic highs.

Comments

Steve Lewis 5 years, 5 months ago

The everpresent Edgemont advertisement is now a plumber's advertisement, >>>

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Steve Lewis 5 years, 5 months ago

Two problems Rob, 1) The ordinance already "sleeps" until some one sees enough demand to build a project. With no demand, the ordinance is moot. (Yes we need to help First Tracks sell its units in the next year, post C.O., as they agreed on.)

But your solution, a suspension, is exactly the same as repealing the ordinance. Billions development value, Thunderhead, Ski Time Square, St Cloud, and others will be vested with no affordable housing obligations.

2) the "obstacles" you would clear away to stimulate growth happen to be our community goals.

This is no "middle ground". This column is advocating selling out our town, plain and simple.

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Scott Ford 5 years, 5 months ago

Developments such as Steamboat 700 will be with us for a long time after the current economic crisis has past; and it will pass. I think City Council and Steamboat 700 will eventually come to terms regarding the annexation. This will involve some "brain-damage" for both parties. Steamboat 700 without question will result in more housing inventory. Increased inventory both free-market and deed restricted will have a tempering effect on overall housing cost appreciation in the area.

I hesitate to suspend a regulation that is currently in place without a clear understanding of the benefits long-term. What are the possible impacts 20 years from now associated with suspending the regulations now? The door of unintended consequences swings both ways on this issue. We can only hope that those with the power to make this decision possess the wisdom it demands and the commitment to community stewardship we deserve.

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Scott Ford 5 years, 5 months ago

Teleflypicker

Your comments highlight the interdependencies that exist between the Moffat and Routt counties. A strong interdependency also exists between Moffat and Rio Blanco counties. Moffat is sandwiched between two counties with very different economic drivers. The interdependency between the counties in Northwest Colorado is only going to increase.

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dave fisher 5 years, 5 months ago

What Rob is advocating is nothing less than the Routt County version of the Wall Steet bailout for developers and real estate interests- albeit through his typically thick fog of florid rhetoric. It should come as no surprise, however. One has only to "follow the money trail" a very short distance as to why he would take such a position on this matter. (hint: see advertisements) >>>

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Fred Duckels 5 years, 5 months ago

Last word Steve, Sleep tight and don't let the bed bugs bite.

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Fred Duckels 5 years, 5 months ago

We seem to have a blitz by the social engineers to resuscitate this dead horse. These non risk takers want to take the steering wheel of this resort machine, and divide up the proceeds of the risk takers. Aren't these the same ones that promoted the Iron Horse. They should all be sentenced to live there for a year, that would involve their skin instead of ours.

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Tim Scannell 5 years, 5 months ago

I second Fred's observation. Iron Horse is what happens when well meaning people spend money that isn't theirs. Follow that money trail to see what mandated affordable housing will bring.

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Steve Lewis 5 years, 5 months ago

http://www.steamboatpilot.com/news/2008/:

"Duckels has just started looking for his summer staff." "We're always shorthanded," he said. "We have to work with the competent people we have. You could do a lot more work, but you can't find the people. As soon as you try to get marginal people and do more work, that's a recipe for losing money." He said they have to sort through a lot of applications to find people who fit. Duckels said he prefers people who live in Steamboat because his company has had little luck with those who don't. The housing issue crops up again with out-of-towners, Duckels said. "I'm sure that's a problem," he said. "That's why it's difficult for people to come in from outside. If they don't have a place to live and everything, it's hard to get started."

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Steve Lewis 5 years, 5 months ago

The one accurate part of Rob's column is the uncertainty of the day. Spinning that as a reason not to attend the needs of the future is indicative of his "next fiscal quarter" politics. When did Americans get this disease?

These ordinances are about Steamboat in the long term. This valley was world class before a condo was built. Let's steward what we have.

Rob is remiss not to acknowledge that falling condo prices will not fall as fast as working folks' ability to buy. Some are saying the expiring Bush tax cuts of capital gains will create a real estate surge before 2011. Second home owners, not workers, will be the main beneficieries of the lower prices, when things do turn.

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Scott Berry 5 years, 5 months ago

This is to good to pass up! Didn't our late finance manager, who made over 100K per year live in the Iron Horse? Yes, she used affordable housing on six figures a year, but perhaps the bed bugs got the best of her and her dogs! Which was worse, the government subsidy or government management? Both are notoriously bad.

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Fred Duckels 5 years, 5 months ago

Steve, You quoted an interview that I had with the Pilot last year. At the time we had shortages of labor and many commodities, fuel was at record highs. Had not our left leaning politicos set out to give everyone home ownership, this boom and accompanying bust would not have occurred. It was during this boom that the social engineers could extract this AH from developers, willing to give an arm and leg to compete. Steve, this social engineering relies on the fat of the land to flourish, and I hope that O does not start mandating this vote getting program all over again.

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Scott Wedel 5 years, 5 months ago

The affordable housing ordinance should not be suspended because a suspension means that all projects that get approved regardless of whether construction starts soon will never have to provide or address affordable housing. That is just stupid.

What is needed is for the City to stop hiring Front Range consultants to tell the City what they want to hear, to admit they are incompetent and instead get some real experts such as Scott Ford that operate in a fact based world. People that can describe the economic realities and expected consequences of different options. (Such as what other communities have learned after years of various types of deed restrictions - anything economic has long term strengths and weaknesses and that should be considered instead of what is suggested by a City staff that cannot claim a record of success or competence).

We have $47.1M wages paid to residents of Moffat County and yet we have public officials saying that it'd be wrong to provide affordable housing within Routt County unless it is within SB. Dogma is costing us so much and it has no place when making economic decisions.

I may or may not agree with Scott Ford, but I have never asked myself if he was completely stupid.

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Scott Wedel 5 years, 5 months ago

Fred, Lots of room to place blame for the housing bubble. It was a whole lot of Wall Street greed that created the whole bundling of low quality mortgages with some default insurance to create bonds that for a fee would be given high credit ratings that were then sold with a big profit margin. And anyone who saw potential problems with that was ignored because money is power and this was a big money factory.

Yes, left leaning politicians pushed Freddie and Fannie to get into that, but that was like telling the rabbit to go into the briar patch - asking them to do what they wanted to do.

In 2006, over half the mortgages written in Denver had less than 5% down - everyone knew that was a huge threat, but almost no one stopped writing those mortgages and no one in government wanted to limit the bubble. It was greed creating greed and it was called the new virtuous cycle.

If it had been one small group pushing their agenda on others then there would have been far more people shorting that system and becoming rich when it all collapsed. The fact that so few profited from the collapse has shown that very few were not in on the greed.

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Fred Duckels 5 years, 5 months ago

Scott, You are right about the overall greed, but the spark that ignited this thing, was offering loans that could not repaid. This only occurred through government intervention, the market did not do this out of stupidity.In my industry I have always estimated the incompetency ratio at 90% and it looks like that may be charitable overall.

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