Our View: Housing policy changes offer promise

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Editorial Board, February 2009 through May 2009

  • Suzanne Schlicht, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Mike Lawrence, city editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Paul Hughes, community representative
  • Gail Smith, community representative

Contact the editorial board at (970) 871-4221 or editor@steamboatpilot.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

— The success of the city's affordable housing policy should be measured by its ability to produce desirable units for qualified buyers, a feat that has proved difficult since the adoption of the inclusionary zoning ordinance two years ago.

Constructing the wrong units for the wrong buyers isn't a model for success, but we fear that's what the ordinance, as currently written, does. With First Tracks at Wildhorse Meadows as the most concrete example, the city needs more flexibility in its approach to affordable housing policy. That's why we're encouraged by the Steamboat Springs City Council's proposed changes to the inclusionary zoning ordinance.

As outlined by the council last week, the revised ordinance would offer developers a variety of ways to help the city meet its goal of providing affordable housing for our work force, from fee-in-lieu payments to voluntary real estate transfer taxes to the dedication of land. Although the existing ordinance allows for some flexibility through its "alternative compliance methods," we think a less rigid approach will get the city what it wants more quickly.

Fee-in-lieu payments and voluntary real estate transfer taxes are attractive because they provide a pot of money the city can use in a variety of ways for affordable housing. In terms of First Tracks, the City Council has signed off on a deal with the developers that includes the city providing down payment assistance to the 12 buyers who are qualified to purchase affordable units in the Wildhorse Meadows project but who may be prevented from closing on them because of strict lending requirements. The details of the down payment assistance haven't been worked out.

Even more attractive is the ability for the city to use money from developers to purchase land for the development of affordable housing.

Some fear revising the ordinance to allow developers to institute a "voluntary" real estate transfer tax is a legal challenge waiting to happen. Real estate transfer taxes - which are imposed on the first and subsequent sales of units within an affected project - are illegal in Colorado unless they were in existence before the tax was outlawed or are negotiated as part of an annexation. City Council attorney Tony Lettunich told council members last week that the issue of a voluntary real estate transfer tax hasn't been tested in Colorado courts, and he questioned whether a court would rule the tax voluntary if it was an option given to developers within the context of a mandatory affordable housing ordinance. A successful legal challenge could set the city and affordable housing progress back if a court ruled that the revenues already collected from a transfer tax had to be remitted.

It's also difficult to gauge how much money for affordable housing a real estate transfer tax would create, if for no other reason than because it's impossible to know how often a unit will be sold and purchased in future years and decades.

Fees in lieu and land dedication - like the 4-acre donation recently offered by developers of the proposed Steamboat Highlands - are a surer thing, providing a level of assurance lacking with real estate transfer taxes.

Cities across the country have struggled with affordable housing policy, and Steamboat has proven no different. But we think the council, in listening to the development community and considering a revised ordinance with more flexibility, is nearing a solution far better than what's in place now.

Comments

David Stone 5 years, 2 months ago

I understand that most of the 12 affordable units sold are mostly one room studios and one bedroom units.This does very little good when it comes to a typical family unit,husband spouse and two children.I just have to guess that in the eyes of the "deciders",it is the number of units that count and not coming up with something better for the real folks who need more than a studio apt'.

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Fred Duckels 5 years, 2 months ago

Extracting a ransom from developers for a social engineering goal looks good, aligns leaders with motherhood and apple pie themes. One problem, we will all pay for this treat one way or another. It is essentially a tax increase camouflaged as most are by the guilt trip, be it the poor, the helpless, some charitable explanation. Social engineering has the world economy on life support and we need not follow the lead. We need bang for the buck in every decision that we make.

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