Ed MacArthur: The value of the Housing Authority
April 30, 2011
What's the value of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority to the community and its residents? Until recently, I would have assumed not much. Most government intervention translates to higher costs, more regulations and eventually higher taxes. Recipients of government handouts, more often than not, become entitled to a point of thinking it is their inalienable right to receive this hand-out (i.e. unemployment insurance, public pensions, etc.).
Upon the adoption of Inclusionary Zoning and Linkage regulations by the city of Steamboat Springs, I volunteered to become a member of the Housing Authority's board of directors. I thought that if money was to be taken from the development community, there needed to be some representation from that group.
I have been a volunteer board member for three years, working with a very diverse and passionate board in the interest of helping local residents find housing they can afford. During this time, I offer the following observations:
The Housing Authority has helped more than 300 families find affordable housing in a variety of locations and types to meet their needs. The families served own their trailer and rent in a Yampa Valley Housing Authority-owned park; rent units at Hillside Village Apartments (some subsidized by federal and state programs and some at market rates); own their home for which they contributed their sweat-equity and received assistance from the Housing Authority in the self-help program; own their condominium built by the Housing Authority and sold with various deed restrictions; own homes throughout the community that are monitored by the Housing Authority; or own their homes with interest-bearing down-payment loans from the Housing Authority.
Considering the current downturn in the economy and the long list of foreclosures in the Steamboat Pilot & Today, it is interesting to note that there has been only one foreclosure on a property that has been purchased through a Housing Authority program. This success can be attributed to a stringent loan and qualification process combined with effective educational programs offered by the Housing Authority. The Housing Authority offers two financial learning opportunities for those who choose to work through the programs offered above — Financial Fitness for those who are looking to better understand personal finance, money management and perhaps thinking about how to buy a house in the future; and Homebuyers Education for those who are actively seeking to purchase a home.
The Homebuyers Education course is a requirement for acceptance into any of the Housing Authority's purchase programs (self-help, Fox Creek, down-payment loan). Across the country, these types of educational programs have proven to be very effective in preparing people to be homeowners. The fact that this information is not mandated in our educational system is baffling to me.
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The educational programs are offered for a nominal upfront fee by the Housing Authority — a fee that is returned to the student upon completion of the program. All other programs require payback in various forms so that today's helping hand can be extended again and again to those needing help in the future. The Yampa Valley Housing Authority always is mindful of limiting the role it plays to being a helping hand and not a handout to our hard-working local residents.
Currently, the Housing Authority operates multiple programs and services on a very tight budget. It is staffed by one full-time director, two property managers (Fish Creek Mobile Home Park and Hillside Village Apartments), and one maintenance manager. The dedicated staff, along with fiscal and strategic oversight by the volunteer board, has allowed the Housing Authority to achieve some real successes for the hard-working families in need of affordable housing opportunities.
I think that as long as the city continues to collect funds from the development community to fund affordable housing solutions in Steamboat Springs, the Yampa Valley Housing Authority is the right organization to manage the funds while helping to maintain a balanced and economically diverse community, as described in the Vision 2030 plan.
Ed MacArthur is the owner of Native Excavating and a member of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority's board of directors.