Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs This week, the Steamboat Springs City Council finally began to rethink the city's ill-conceived affordable housing ordinance.
While absorbing the arguments and contemplating how to convey my belief that the ordinance places an inequitable, immoral and unjust burden upon builders and businesses to provide so-called affordable housing, I suddenly realized someone was articulating my inner thoughts.
Mary Brown - past council president and former co-owner of a 540-acre property sold to Steamboat 700 - was at the Centennial Hall podium, expressing the thoughts that were roiling in my noggin.
While I will have much to say about affordable housing in my own clumsy way in future weeks, this week, I will let Brown's remarks do the talking. Brown offers a worthy challenge to each of us. Do we truly believe in a "community" solution for affordable housing, or are we falsely using that word to mask unjust burden shifting?
Following is a transcript of Brown's comments to the council:
"Since we started doing community surveys in the late 1980s, there have been two items that have been one and two universally: Preservation of open space and affordable housing. If you try to compare the efforts that have been applied to those two primary community goals, I think you'll find a rather significant difference.
"The city and the county have both worked diligently at the preservation of open space. We passed a property tax to support the acquisition of open space and passed incentives through county land preservation subdivision ordinances to give incentives to people to protect open space.
"And yet, when affordable housing comes up, we look for somebody else to solve the problem.
"Every one of you this evening - both on the panel (Yampa Valley Housing Authority Board President Mary Alice Page-Allen; Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley organizer Steve Aigner; and Brent Pearson, of Resort West, representing developers and businesses troubled by the existing affordable housing ordinance) and on the council - suggested that this is a community problem. And yet, it is your expectation that the entire burden of addressing the problem should be born by people who started to build houses after 2006.
"That is not a community approach to solving the problem. That is trying to lay the problem off on someone else.
"I don't know what the solution is. But I don't believe that every time y'all make a decision it comes into your head: What'll this do for affordable housing?
"When you raise the building permit fee, what did that do for affordable housing? When you require all this stuff that you require when someone comes to do a development, what are you doing for affordable housing?
"This is a problem that has not been universally embraced by the community and by the council in using it as a kind of an overlay to all the decisions that you make.
"I can't tell you what should happen to the inclusionary zoning and linkage ordinances. I have significant questions about both of them, and frankly, I don't think they are doing a whole lot to further the solution to this problem. But, I think that it is important that as a No. 1 priority of the community - according to surveys, anyway - that there be a little more universal approach to solving the problem.
"We have a Yampa Valley Land Trust. We have a PDR committee. We have incentive-based zoning ordinances to meet our other No. 1 issue (preservation of open space). And yet, I don't recall - and perhaps I'm simply not informed - significant efforts at applying for grants to address affordable housing, at establishing a community housing committee, at passing ordinances that, in fact, incentivize people to build affordable housing.
"And so, while you wrestle with options (contained in a document drafted by the city's affordable housing staff), I think you're just barely scratching the surface.
"And frankly, if there is not a community commitment to solving this problem - if the community's only desire is to make it someone else's problem - then I don't believe it's a high-priority community problem.
"I would suggest that while you look at the options (drafted by staff), you broaden the scope of your purview, and you look at the community addressing this highly-touted problem and the community getting on board with their pocketbooks and their efforts to address it, because one segment of the community - that got saddled with the burden in 2006 - is never going to make it really a community solution.
"If it's a community problem, it needs a community solution."