Road to nowhere
Most of what I hear about affordable housing deals with the subject of who doesn't want to fund it. I might offer that we need to have a discussion of how to solve it. I wasn't around when the discussion started, so I don't know all the motivations. In any case, here is what it looks like today:
- Somebody thought we needed affordable housing for people who cannot buy adequate housing in the free market.
- The only way we can provide affordable housing is to find somebody to pay for it.
- For political expedience, if someone wants to build something new, we can impose an extra cost on them to help alleviate the necessary subsidy for affordable housing.
- Other communities have used things like inclusionary zoning and linkage fees to accomplish this subsidy, so we should too.
- Because the city of Steamboat Springs seems to be most impacted by the need for affordable housing, let's put the responsibility on their shoulders to provide it.
- The details of what we have created are not working for a variety of reasons, so let's can the whole scheme.
I have heard people argue that housing always has been a challenge for new folks coming to Steamboat. But this idea does not distinguish who should benefit from affordable housing. If your only reason to come to Routt County is to ski, hunt, fish, meet new friends and then go back to school or go off to find a real job, then the community's concern for your housing is negligible. And it should not be of concern.
But, if the community needs teachers, nurses, firefighters or any other career employee and those people have to put cost of housing into their evaluation of Routt County, then our cost of housing becomes a problem. We will not solve this problem without some form of subsidy for the housing needed by the desired work force.
This reality leads to a couple of observations:
- The housing need is directly associated with the work force and should thus be imbedded directly into the employers' responsibilities.
- This is a regional need and should be addressed commonly at the regional level.
- Growth of the area exacerbates the need for more affordable housing, so yes, a financial disincentive should be levied on any form of development to reduce the new impact of more demands for supporting services and employment.
- The need for subsidized housing is not going to go away in the future. The remedy should be contemplated with a very long-term approach.
I have never liked the idea of waving a magic wand, but in the absence of someone else sticking their nose out on this issue, here is my not-so-perfect solution:
- Create a regional nonprofit with a board made up of employers from the region.
- Fund the organization with land and money coming from transfer fees, land trust, endowments, surcharges on all forms of development and construction, a portion of all tax revenues, and take money from anyone and everyone willing or able to give it. Heck, even take a portion of penalties for DUIs to put in the coffers.
- Then, build housing in a revenue-shared program between employers, the new homeowners and this nonprofit such that equity is shared among all three.
- Provide some profit incentive to any contractor/developer willing to build housing to satisfy this program.