Our View: City a step closer to getting affordable housing right

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At issue

Suspension of affordable housing fees on developers

Our view

City Council was correct this week, from a fairness standpoint alone, to suspend fees on developers.

Steamboat Today editorial board — June to December 2013

  • Suzanne Schlicht, COO and publisher
  • Lisa Schlichtman, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • David Baldinger Jr., community representative
  • Lisa Brown, community representative

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

Much has changed since 2006 in the Steamboat Springs housing market and the local economy to suggest that the community needs to hit the reset button on its programs in support of affordable housing. And we already know that single-family homes within the city limits that are attainable by typical two-income households again are in short supply. However, we also know that the tools the city of Steamboat Springs sought to use to provide affordable housing seven years ago, during an unprecedented escalation of housing prices in the Yampa Valley, were not successful.

Requiring developers of luxury housing projects to either build deed-restricted affordable units on site or pay large fees to offset the demand for new workers simply didn’t work. Squeezed between income limits and the amount of money they could qualify to borrow, many would-be affordable home buyers turned out to be square pegs trying to fit into a round hole. Many others proved not to be interested in buying deed-restricted homes with caps on appreciation.

In the notable case of First Tracks at Wildhorse Meadows, interested buyers either made too much money to meet affordability standards or made too little to qualify for a mortgage. Ultimately, the city had to allow the developers to pursue market sales on a project they never would have built of their own accord. It wasn’t what anyone in Steamboat intended.

We think that the next time around, the community, together with its elected government officials, needs to explore the potential for incentivizing developers to build workforce housing, and not necessarily in the resort villages close to the base of Steamboat Ski Area. The last time around, the community overlooked the role that encouraging new  sustainable rental apartment complexes and mobile home parks with long-term prohibitions against redevelopment might have played in providing housing for young professionals and people working in the service sector.

City Planner Rebecca Bessey said she will begin this summer studying what the inventory of available housing is and what the needs are. We know with certainty that in the past five years, hundreds of housing units in Routt County have sold for prices below $300,000 and below $200,000, presumably many of them to people who live and work here. It would be tedious but not difficult to sift through county records to learn how many modest homes sold within the past three years now are owned by people whose permanent address is in Routt County. That would make a good start.

In summer 2013, with our construction economy just beginning to rebound, we think the Steamboat Springs City Council was wise to suspend affordable housing fees until we can arrive at a broad, community-based approach to supporting the creation of workforce housing for a new economy.

Comments

mark hartless 9 months, 1 week ago

Mobile homes are "afordable".

The fact that you scoff at them indicates that you do not seek affordability, but equality.

Equality is an illusion, and meanwhile most of those with no roof over their heads would be HAPPY to sleep in a mobile home.

Elitism is so obnoxious.

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John Fielding 9 months, 1 week ago

.

The term "mobile home park" conjures images of dilapidated trailers with poorly built snow coverings and sheds. But the reality of new parks is that they are indistinguishable from neighborhoods of independently owned small lots. The houses are factory built permanent structures, not trailers. The factor that makes it a "mobile home park" is that the land is not owned by the individual. Generally it is also zoned for smaller lots than other zones allow.

Dream Island is an example of the old style, Indian Trails (across from the transit center) the new. I know many people who have used those parks as stepping stones to real estate ownership by building equity for several years then selling and moving up.

. .

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Scott Wedel 9 months, 1 week ago

"It would be tedious but not difficult to sift through county records to learn how many modest homes sold within the past three years now are owned by people whose permanent address is in Routt County"

That is a pretty simple search using a modern device known as a "computer".

The more difficult part is whether the question is actually asking what it is claimed to be asking. If an investor bought a cheap housing unit to rent then does it really make a difference if the owner's address is local? If the question is how many units were sold to owner occupied local workers then that requires checking things not in the public record.

In terms of policy goals of affordable workforce housing then I think it should be asked whether workers are occupying that housing. For instance YVHA's Hillside Apts appears to gladly be renting to many on government assistance. So some people are able to use two government subsidies programs to live in SB and occupy a housing unit intended for local workers.

I have nothing against housing assistance and it is far better than disabled people being homeless, but there is no particular reason that another government program that supposedly provides workforce housing allows itself to be used by nonworkers. But YVHA is not operated to provide workforce housing, they are being managed to break even on their properties and they like tenants on government assistance because that is basically guaranteed rent and those tenants tend to stay much longer.

The irony of the situation is that if Hillside Apts was privately owned then there would be MORE workforce housing because then rents would be higher than the government assistance cut off so it wouldn't have so many nonworkers. Those people wouldn't become homeless, but could move outside of SB city limits where rents are lower.

City and county should stop funding YVHA so that it stops offering apts so deeply discounted and has to collect more money from rent. City and County could use that money for a workforce housing program that helps local workers with their housing if that is the goal. Right now, city and county are funding YVHA so that YVHA can undermine the city and counties goals for affordable workforce housing.

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