West End Village in Steamboat Springs is the target of a new proposal that would ease deed restrictions because of a real estate market devastated by the Great Recession.  The plan would keep requirements that potential buyers work in Routt County and live in the home as their primary residence.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

West End Village in Steamboat Springs is the target of a new proposal that would ease deed restrictions because of a real estate market devastated by the Great Recession. The plan would keep requirements that potential buyers work in Routt County and live in the home as their primary residence.

Deed restriction buyout proposal illustrates economic shifts

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— Local affordable housing advocates say a proposal that would reduce deed restrictions on some West End Village homes is not a death knell for their efforts and results — rather, they said last week, it indicates the need to periodically change policies to suit ever-changing markets.

“As economies go up and economies go down, there are repercussions for all the decisions we make on one end or the other,” said Steamboat Springs businessman Ed MacArthur, a former president and current treasurer of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority’s board of directors. “I don’t know how you find the perfect scenario to fit all the people, all the time.”

When the framework for West End Village was created a decade ago, “perfect scenario” is a sentiment that may have been in the air. Steamboat Springs City Council approved

the development on the city’s west side in December 2000, through collaboration with the Regional Affordable Living Foundation, the initial iteration of the Housing Authority. The city and Routt County helped subsidize the project.

RALF initially had a waiting list of 75 people interested in West End homes, but — in perhaps a forecast of unforeseen economic fluctuations to come — the project stalled in 2001 as some investors lost interest during an economic slowdown worsened by the events of Sept. 11.

Connell Resources closed on the 30-acre property off Downhill Drive in January 2002. The development plan stipulated that RALF would buy half the property and, along with other deed restrictions, offer homes to people who earned less than 120 percent of the area median income. In 2002, that amounted to $67,200 for a family of four.

In 2010, for comparison’s sake, $67,200 was 120 percent of the area median income for a household of one. For a family of four, 120 percent was $95,880, according to Housing Authority data.

Kathi Meyer, a past president of RALF as well as former longtime member of the Housing Authority’s board and current vice chairperson of the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission, was very involved in the creation of West End Village as an affordable, socio-economically diverse community for the local work force.

She said she knew at the time that housing markets would change — just not as much as they have in the past couple of years.

“I would have never thought that we’d have the real estate recession that we did, but I’ve seen the local market go through two very dramatic corrections,” Meyer said, referring to the recent recession and a market downturn in the ’80s. “My crystal ball wasn’t that good, but I knew that ultimately there would be a correction, that things wouldn’t go up forever.”

They didn’t.

Amid a real estate market devastated by the recent recession, city officials now are considering a plan that would enable West End Village homeowner Rebecca Roof to buy out of two deed restrictions — the income requirement and a $250,000 net worth cap — for potential buyers of her home at 2357 Penny Lane.

In order to maintain the community character instrumental to development of West End Village, though, the plan would keep requirements that potential buyers work in Routt County and live in the home as their primary residence.

The Steamboat Springs City Council gave initial approval to the plan April 5 and could give final approval May 3.

Councilman Jon Quinn said he hasn’t heard much from residents potentially concerned about the removal of deed restrictions. Quinn called West End Village an example of homebuyers who become “trapped by a deed restriction as opposed to being saved” by it.

“I think it’s another indication that perhaps some of the policies of the past did not account for the huge potential downturn. … This policy only works when the market continues to work upward,” he said. “It seems to be a pretty good argument, in my mind, that a free market has to solve these problems.”

‘Million-dollar question’

Meyer said the removal of some West End Village deed restrictions would in no way make the overall project a failure. She noted that homes there have no limit to their appreciation, as do homes in some other affordable projects such as Fox Creek Village, a Hilltop Parkway development built by the Housing Authority.

“In the case of West End Village, because there was never a price restriction, I would view it as a success … and the neighborhood that was built achieved its goal,” Meyer said.

Meyer and her husband own a West End Village duplex, which Meyer said they rent to long-term locals.

“What makes it attractive is the neighborhood,” she said.

Mary Alice Page-Allen, asset and program manager for the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, said 41 of the 72 West End Village lots have deed restrictions. Although Roof’s request arose out of the special circumstances involving a job transfer, Page-Allen has said the process could set a template for future requests from other homeowners. Costs to buy out of deed restrictions could vary significantly depending on the home and the neighborhood.

Page-Allen acknowledged that when the economy rebounds and local housing prices again climb out of reach for some local workers, the Housing Authority could find itself again implementing affordability measures.

“When the marketplace comes back, I think we’re going to have to pull out a different set of tools,” Page-Allen said.

Since the market’s plunge, the Housing Authority has focused on scaled-down efforts including property management and its down payment assistance program.

“It just depends on what the need is and what the dynamic is today,” Page-Allen said.

MacArthur said whether the Housing Authority will need to re-implement affordability policies in the future is uncertain.

“I suppose that’s probably the million-dollar question,” he said, before citing the inevitability of housing bubbles and bursts. “The unfortunate part is that history has shown this kind of thing happens all the time.”

That could mean local housing policies in coming years will rise and fall with housing markets.

“I think that over time, we’ll have to continuously look at and adjust these regulations,” MacArthur said. “We’ve now interfered with the market, so we’ll have to continue interfering with it in some fashion.”

To reach Mike Lawrence, call 970-871-4233 or email mlawrence@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

seeuski 3 years, 8 months ago

Scott Fords comments in the Pilot are spot on, the Government manipulation of private industry and individuals lives will always cost the broader public in the end. Market conditions would have dictated that these low income people not own in such an economic climate and we would not have had the national housing bubble that blew up. The FHA continues to spread the wealth and we are losing billions each month to the Fannie/Freddie losses from those loan guarantees. At least the Lady in this article is trying to avoid dumping the home on the taxpayers, credit for that.

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Steve Lewis 3 years, 8 months ago

Just to keep this in perspective, from what City staff told me a year ago, deed restricted product is seeing less foreclosure than the market in general. The extra scrutiny made better fits of owners to mortgage burdens.

And no one has said that Rebecca is "upside down" here, and I doubt that is the issue. She has the same issue as Howelsen Place and Wildhorse Meadows - caught between deed restrictions and a huge housing bust.

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Steve Lewis 3 years, 8 months ago

This is a new question amidst new circumstances, as Ed said, and should be considered carefully. Who knows when or if the need for MORE affordable OWNERSHIP product will reappear. That's a lot different than saying we will have ZERO need for affordable ownership. I don't see us needing to build more of it, but I expect there will be a future market for DR ownership of the existing units already created here.

Affordable RENTAL needs will continue to reappear down the road - its just a question of scale.

Rebecca has 2 combined problems. 1) She has to move for work, a hardship. And 2) her deed restrictions have further stranded her with less to sell while market prices have ebbed so low around her.

Which raise 2 questions: 1) How to navigate similar hardships in Steamboat's owned DR product to maximize the benefits accrued for future low income buyers. I would not reduce DR's across the board. But I would support Rebecca's particular hardship and her modified DR. And she will have to take a loss in this too. More than the amount published earlier of $3,000. I don't understand that number? The recommended new DR for Rebecca is very similar to what exists in Telluride. Their market should allow some scale in weighing this.

2) And the future need? I hesitate to guess, but seems reasonable to look at the forming principles of the DR program and see how they still apply. I would be looking at how wages are faring in comparison to the ownership market.

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seeuski 3 years, 8 months ago

We have affordable housing now without deed restrictions because the house of cards that was created by massive Government manipulation has tumbled down. We will not need DR properties to create affordable housing if the market is left alone and is allowed to move with normal demand and lending practices, that is if we survive this "fundamental transformation" that we are under. Maybe like everything else these days, the Government will takeover and we will just buy from them. Oh, my bad, we already have that happening with all the foreclosed properties on the market. Now that is what I call taxpayer subsidized housing.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 8 months ago

Deed restrictions is just about the worst way possible to try to achieve some social benefit because it places so much value on being able to play the game of meeting the deed restrictions. Of not having wealth or income, but the means of buying a house.

Even the deed restrictions of having to live and work in Routt County can be foreseen to create issues over working in Routt County. What about someone that works in a local office job for a company that closes the office and transfers the person to their Denver office, but allows the person to work from home? Or the person is transferred and expects to be able to return here in 3 years?

Deed restrictions like that are a mess because life intervenes and people trying to have a normal life end up in complicated situations. And then others seen people escaping onerous deed restrictions and see something to be gained by allowing the same circumstances in their lives that allows them to escape the deed restrictions.

I have only seen one type of deed restriction work which is to say this house is this size and no additions are allowed. That is to prevent someone from buying a modest house and remodeling it into a much more expensive house. It works because it is a limitation on the house, not on the occupants. If the occupants need a bigger house then they have to move. There is never a need to change that deed restriction.

The right way to create affordable housing is to have programs that pays for whatever is desired and then puts that desire out for bidding. You want SB apartments that rent for $600 a month and can promise 100% occupancy then put that out for bid and see how much of a monthly subsidy is also required from the various apartment owners. Or whatever.

But trying to create a system of rules and deed restrictions intended to warp the free market to a desired result rarely works and usually creates more problems.

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Scott Ford 3 years, 7 months ago

Like many things we do individually or as a collective it is easy to get lost in the details of a strategy or a tactic and forget what the desired outcome is. Deed restrictions are nothing more than a strategy/tactic to help accomplish a desired outcome.

Correct me if I am wrong but I have always understood the overreaching desired outcome of the affordable/attainable housing efforts to be that individuals working in Routt County had the opportunity to live in Routt County. This is simple enough to understand. I do not think we need to make it more complex than this. Notice I did not say that they had the "right" or the "entitlement" to live here, however, merely the opportunity to live here if they so choose to.

What is the scope and magnitude of this problem? The YVHA has not done a great job of defining the problem. They quickly get lost in the details and soon all of us are sucked into the "corn-maze" in discussing this issue. Simply put, - without using antidotal stories and waiting list as evidence what is the tangible verifiable scope of the problem?

What we know as tangible evidence: 93% of the folks that are working work in Routt County. Is this good enough or do we want to improve this to 100%.(US Census Small Community Survey 2009) Of the age group between 25-45 represent 33.4% of the population and this group represents 40% of the home ownership. Is this OK?
Median gross rent as a percentage of household income is 30.6%. Is this OK? How does it compare to other places? Median selected monthly owner costs, as a percentage of household income in the past 12 months for those with a mortgage is 28%. Is this OK? How does it compare to other places? (The above is just a fragment of the information we know but never seems to be discussed.)

Until the YVHA clearly defines what the desired outcome is and how progress toward or away from that desired outcome is occurring, I cannot help but think the strategies, tactics being discussed are perhaps "programs" in search of problems to fix that may or may not exist. At a minimum, we are guessing at the magnitude of the problem.

Endlessly discussing merits of various strategies/tactics (programs) and whether they are working or not without a clear understanding of the desired outcome and how it is going to be routinely and objectively measured is silly.

We need to always remember that just because we say that we have a problem does not automatically mean the problem really exist.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 7 months ago

Scott F. Well, I believe that it has also been stated that the goal is for working people to live in Steamboat Springs so they don't have to commute. If the goal was to allow people to live in Routt County then YVHA would have had the easiest time creating affordable housing in Hayden, Stagecoach, etc where there was never a shortage of lots.

The SB housing for SB workers is the problem because SB is such a nice resort area, it becomes a huge challenge separating those that lived here long enough that are considered deserving of a right to live in Steamboat vs those transient ski bums that are here for just a few years to enjoy themselves before going back to the real world.

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Scott Ford 3 years, 7 months ago

Hi Scott W - Words and titles do matter, What we have here is an organization called the Yampa Valley Housing Authority that really only has "authority" in an area that is slightly expanded beyond the Steamboat Springs City limits. The Steamboat Springs centric focus of the YVHA has been from my perspective a handicap they imposed on themselves because the strategies/tactics were focused in Steamboat Springs.

This is where the "corn-maze" begins with this issue. Some think commuting is such a bad thing because it influences community involvement - lower family time, is not environmentally sustainable; the list goes on and on. No one of these items can be equally important. However, in the affordable housing "corn-maze" they seem to become equally important.

If the vision for the desired outcome is only Steamboat Springs centric we will continue to wander in and out of the "corn maze" of affordable housing with only the illusion of progress. Heck we have been doing this for years. We are skilled at creating the illusion of progress but all we are really doing is going around in circles in the maze.

It is time to stop and change the vision of the desired outcome to a countywide vision and not a Steamboat Springs centric vision.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 7 months ago

Scott F, Maybe we should get a room so we don't annoy others with civility.

I think the SB centric approach is fatally flawed because already so many do not live in SB. If the SB centric approach truly made sense then Routt County should not have allowed Stagecoach or Steamboat Lake and should certainly be trying to eliminate growth there. If the SB centric approach is truly right then Hayden's growth should have been limited to job growth in Hayden.

And as for the effects upon people, 30 minutes is a perfectly normal commute. So it really makes no sense to place significant social value on people living in SB vs Hayden, North Routt, Stagecoach or Oak Creek.

In terms of regionalism, the plan that would do the most to meet YVHA's goals would be to get those that work in Routt County to move from Craig into Routt County. But that is a whole different sociological issue.

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Steve Lewis 3 years, 7 months ago

Scott Ford, We may agree that the AH vision looks very different today than in 2007. I suggested to a YVHA board member that their program intentions going forward need re-publishing. Seems it would be aimed at rentals, but let's wait to see what it is before we argue its merits.

But about the past few years...

You think we are in an AH maze. Because the effort is Steamboat centric. Do you have a copy of the 2004 area plan? It is fairly specific in suggesting exactly what you disagree with – allowing more Steamboat workers to live in Steamboat. In the year, say 2007 when the local AH effort, and need, was maximum, do you think the area plan made no sense? Just the AH part of it, or the whole thing?

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Steve Lewis 3 years, 7 months ago

Scott F, AH deed restriction enforceability is a problem, you suspect. Has it been a problem? I have a friend, anecdotally, who sold her Fox Creek unit only because the rules prevented her from subletting as she moved to work elsewhere. Who has the better evidence of reality? My anecdote? Or your suspicion.

I don’t understand your position. From your perspective, the program at Fox Creek is impossible. It is also an “illusion of progress”. Do you think the residents of Fox Creek agree with you. Would they have agreed with you in 2007?

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Steve Lewis 3 years, 7 months ago

Our AH disagreement is years old. But hey, if Fred is right about “cycles”, AH discussions will re-emerge inevitably. In large part, our past and future differences will boil down to the problems of the commute. Scott W and I have already had an epic disagreement on what that $$ cost will mean to the folks who spend an hour or more commuting each day. The drive-until-you-qualify syndrome has a nasty bite when the cost of gas jumps. And you acknowledge other problems.

“Some think commuting is such a bad thing because it influences community involvement - lower family time, is not environmentally sustainable; the list goes on and on. No one of these items can be equally important. However, in the affordable housing "corn-maze" they seem to become equally important.”

What do you mean by that? Are these all non-issues?

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