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Affordable housing in cross hairs

As Steamboat 700 vote looms, committee report adds to debate

The work of a citizen committee and the looming vote on the proposed Steamboat 700 annexation have returned affordable housing issues to the cross hairs of local debate. The Fox Creek townhomes on Hilltop Parkway include 30 deed-restricted units built by the Yampa Valley Housing Authority in 2006.

Vote on 700

■ Ballots for the mail-only election will be sent to registered Steamboat Springs voters between Feb. 15 and 19. The election ends March 9.

■ Steamboat 700 is a proposed master-planned community on 487 acres adjacent to the western city limits of Steamboat Springs. The project proposes about 2,000 homes — from apartments to single-family home lots — and 380,000 square feet of commercial development that would be built to the standards of new urbanism (dense, walkable and transit-friendly).

Online

Learn more about the proposed Steamboat 700 annexation at http://www.steamboatpilot.com/news/steamboat700/

Housing committee

Members of the Affordable Housing Measurement Citizens Committee are Mark Andersen, Scott Ford, Roger Good, Steve Hofman, Doug Labor, Rich Lowe, Mark Scully and Chuck Williamson.

— A report from a citizen committee this week showed the community remains sharply divided about affordable housing, an issue that, like many, will swing with the pendulum of the city's upcoming vote on the proposed Steamboat 700 annexation.

The Steamboat Springs City Council and members of the public engaged in a broad, two-hour discussion about local housing issues Tuesday during the presentation of findings by a committee asked to analyze measurability of housing needs and programs. The committee found the city is measurability lacking and recommended action including consistent reports of home inventories and work force home ownership, clearer income targets for rental and ownership assistance and annual surveys of local employers to determine up-to-date job and wage data to better assess housing needs.

"Once you know what the permanent work force is going to be and what the trends are in the business community, you'll have a good idea what the demand is," committee member Roger Good told the City Council.

But Tuesday's discussion ranged beyond those recommendations into affordable housing policy and goals. The discussion came under the umbrella of Steamboat 700, which would give the city 15 acres for affordable housing, revenue from a real estate transfer fee and an attainability plan; a new program from the Yampa Valley Housing Authority; and potential changes to the city's inclusionary zoning ordinance.

The City Council adopted that ordinance in 2006 and linkage a year later. Linkage requires developers to mitigate a percentage of the work force housing their developments are thought to create. The City Council suspended linkage last year and has reduced inclusionary zoning requirements.

Councilman Jim Engelken said Tuesday that he had hoped the report would suggest ways to re-strengthen city affordable housing policies. Steamboat residents including Steve Lewis and Towny Anderson questioned the report's message.

The report states that a long-term approach to affordable housing policy "should seek to shift the thinking from a reliance on public-funded subsidies to encouraging and assisting business to grow and compete." The report's conclusion states "that current policy could not be effectively measured and evaluated. We believe that city resources should not continue to be devoted to approaches that are uncertain and guided by anecdotal information."

Anderson was a member of the City Council when it passed inclusionary zoning and linkage.

"You can see how some of us are a little bit offended by what we've read," he said, adding that "we're seeing (inclusionary zoning) be dismantled."

Committee member Steve Hof­man said the committee recognizes the need for housing policy.

"We understand that assistance distorts markets, but we think assistance is still necessary," he said.

City Manager Jon Roberts said Thursday that he viewed the recommendations as a tool to assess affordable housing programs in the future.

"I agree that having a mechanism in place to measure the positive impacts of the program will be a great benefit," Roberts said. "The measurability provided by the committee … could be applied to any proposal that comes forward, whether it's a down payment assistance program or whether it's bricks and mortar."

The City Council agreed to plan a work session to further address housing issues and policy. Hofman said the committee intends to raise awareness of its recommendations.

"We're going to be engaging a whole lot of community groups in the coming months," Hofman said.

Housing Authority action

Roberts said the city is talking with the Housing Authority about collaborating on and implementing additional housing programs. The Housing Authority and City Council are scheduled to have a joint meeting Feb. 16.

Mary Alice Page-Allen, asset/program manager for the Housing Authority, said the organization's board has approved a new down payment assistance program for buyers seeking affordable homes.

Page-Allen said Housing Authority funds now are available for Steamboat-area residents, including those who live in subdivisions west of the city or who work in Steamboat but live in Oak Creek or Hayden.

She said a total of $50,000 is available. Buyers can access a maximum of 5 percent of the purchase price or 5 percent of the property's appraisal, whichever is less, or a minimum of $1,000.

Page-Allen said the Feb. 16 meeting with City Council could include discussion about a proposal to use fee-in-lieu funds, which developers pay instead of building affordable units, to supplement the down payment program.

Those fees, part of the city's inclusionary zoning ordinance, also are a source of debate.

The City Council postponed Tuesday a decision about whether to change the fee-in-lieu structure to allow developers the option of paying 50 percent of the fee up front — on the sale of the first 15 percent of units in the development — along with a voluntary real estate transfer fee on every transfer of every unit in the development. The transfer fee was set at 0.2 percent of the unit's gross sales price in the draft revision, but council members disagreed on its amount and tabled the issue until Feb. 16.

Page-Allen said potential buyers could call the Housing Authority at 870-0167 or work with lenders for more information about down payment assistance. Buyers must have an approved first mortgage lending package to receive the down payment assistance, Page-Allen said.

"I see it becoming a pretty vigorous program here in the near future," Page-Allen said earlier this week. "It's a tough time, but hopefully we can help some folks."