Steamboat Springs The board of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority spent 30 minutes Thursday talking about how to describe the challenges and opportunities presented by its Elk River Village property and related debt as it prepares to launch a public information campaign about the mission of the Housing Authority.
The board has resolved to go to the voters in November to seek a property tax that would allow the Housing Authority to establish fiscal autonomy and wean itself off subsidies from Steamboat Springs and Routt County governments. However, board member Catherine Carson and Asset/Program Manager Mary Alice Page-Allen said the educational campaign should not be mistaken for an election campaign.
“This is not part of a campaign for the proposed tax,” Carson said. “We need to tell the public our long-term and short-term plans for Elk River (Village). It’s an opportunity for us, and we need to define that opportunity.”
The board voted, 6-1, with several members absent, on Jan. 10 to seek a tax within its district that would raise about $395,000 annually and cost the owner of a home valued for taxes at $500,000 about $22 a year.
Page-Allen said she is repeatedly reminded that members of the public don’t understand the width and breadth of the Housing Authority’s work, from educating prospective homebuyers, to managing low-income rental apartments to owning and managing the Fish Creek Mobile Home Park.
Board member Kristi Brown said members of the Housing Authority’s public relations and strategy committee intentionally sought out members of the public they could predict would not be in favor of a property tax question and discovered that for the most part, those residents were unaware of the role of the Housing Authority.
“We asked them how they feel about the Housing Authority and most said, ‘What is it you do?’ They either didn’t know or think we own the Iron Horse,” Brown said. The Iron Horse is a troubled work force housing project owned by the city of Steamboat.
“They didn’t have a strong opinion one way or another on the Housing Authority,” she said.
Elk River Village is an undeveloped 10.76-acre parcel near U.S. Highway 40 and Routt County Road 129 on Steamboat’s west side. It originally was approved as a private sector neighborhood of small, single-family homes.
The Housing Authority purchased the property in 2006 and makes payments annually of about $110,000 to cover the interest on the $2 million loan.
Board members say they don’t want the community to have the impression that they are seeking the property tax in order to cover the debt.
Board member Ed MacArthur, who is on record as being opposed to seeking the property tax, noted that the property is listed for sale and the board diligently has brought experts in to assess the situation. He said the Housing Authority has plenty of company from developers in the private sector who face a similar dilemma — holding a piece of development ground that is worth less than they paid for it.
“It isn’t like it didn’t have existing approval and an upside” when it was purchased, MacArthur said. “This one’s tough, no question. Elk River is a burden we have to deal with internally.”
— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or e-mail tross@SteamboatToday.com