Sunday, February 15, 2009
On Tuesday night, when the City Council and representatives of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority and the Community Alliance discussed affordable housing in Citizens Hall, I was at Soda Creek Elementary School listening and laughing as 40 second-graders entertained three generations with their voices, costumes and funny faces at the new school's first musical, "The Frog Prince."
The very next day, kids, families and community filled my consciousness again. In Wednesday's Steamboat Today, Joanne Palmer captured Steamboat's authenticity through the magic of Winter Carnival, "where the real becomes even more precious : a time when we come together as a community, feeling equal as we laugh, play and cheer each other on." Then, duh, I realized the affordable housing issue is really about our kids, our families and our community.
2009 is a year for transitions. Recently we have honored some very fine, beloved legends of the valley who helped create this community - Wayne Kakela, John Fetcher and Jim Temple. Simultaneously, we admire Sandy Graves' statue of children playing on a teeter-totter on the courthouse lawn. Our community is becoming more old than young, more wealthy than balanced. In the future, will we look wistfully upon the statues of laughing children at play, wondering where all the kids have gone?
In 1993, the people of Crested Butte faced a transition. They were concerned about the future of their community. They noted that 58 percent of the town's workers lived in Crested Butte. Then they adopted community housing and land-use policies that stated their housing goal as making sure 60 percent of their employees lived in the community. Of the 153 new homes built since then, 93 are deed-restricted; meaning just 39 percent were free-market homes. They set a goal to sustain what they loved about their community and now, 16 years later, they continue to meet their goal.
In 1993, the people of Steamboat Springs faced a transition, too. Steamboat Springs went in another direction. In the early 1990s we knew we needed more affordable housing. As John Spezia has reminded us, in 1993 the Steamboat Springs Affordable Housing Commission, made up of leading bankers, builders, developers, real estate professionals and businessmen of the community, rejected all the suggested tools and methods to solve the emerging affordable housing problem. Our City Council even refused to enact a real estate transfer fee by a 5-2 vote.
Now, we estimate that only 33 percent of Steamboat's workers live in our community. The commuting workers have less family time and our community is less inclusive, less real. Our stated target goal of 15 percent affordable homes in our community housing policies is not even half of 33 percent. With the winds of transition blowing, the future target goal may become 10 percent.
Enacting affordable housing policies to support the common good does not appear to have hurt Crested Butte's development community. Using numbers for Gunnison County between 1990 and 2006, the percent of the work force who were members of the construction industry increased 179 percent.
You know what? That is exactly the same increase - 179 percent - we experienced here in Routt County during exactly the same time period. This is a rough comparison, I admit. We won't be able to compare Crested Butte and Steamboat Springs until the 2010 Census results are available.
Affordable housing is about the magic of kids playing, laughing and making funny faces. It's about the love of families and friends and a real, authentic community. It's about what we love about living here. It's about why people visit. Affordable housing is about young families staying here. Then we will hear voices, laughter and see kids at play. Statues don't laugh. Let's take the Crested Butte story to heart.