Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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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On one side of the affordable housing divide are folks who believe the law should be repealed so the free market can work.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.