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Groups address affordable housing

— Just as the Ten Plus Two Committee arose out of the ashes of the failed school bond issue in 1995 to help push the next bond over the top, perhaps a solution to the problem of affordable housing in Steamboat Springs can arise from the ashes of the excise tax. School Superintendent Cyndy Simms, who was one of the members of the Ten Plus Two Committee, tried to offer that hope to an assembled group of City Council members Monday night at a joint meeting.

Drawing on her experience in the Ten Plus Two Committee, Simms recommended that City Council involve a similarly diverse body in addressing the issue of affordable housing. She suggested that the Economic Development Council, which is made up of everyone from developers to conservationists to Rob Dick, the director of the Regional Affordable Living Foundation, could serve a similar role to the Ten Plus Two Committee in taking on affordable housing.

Councilwoman Kathy Connell said the problem could not be solved without the help of a local citizens group.

“I truly believe that none of this will work unless we have a citizens’ initiative,” she said.

While the school board officials present at the meeting, including Dan Birch, Matthew Hermes and Paul Fisher, showed their genuine concern for the issue of affordable housing, their discussion with City Council indicated a distinct difference in the two groups’ approaches to the issue. The school board has been discussing the issue of affordable housing in relation to its attempts to hire and retain the best employees possible but is unsure of whether it is its responsibility to figure out how to provide affordable housing for school workers.

“We haven’t taken the position that we ought to be providing affordable housing,” Birch said.

The school board was also unsure of exactly how drastic was the need for school employee housing.

Simms identified property in the Whistler neighborhood as a possible site for future school employee housing, but the school board officials said they were keeping their options open in terms of the use of that site.

City Council, on the other hand, has repeatedly identified finding a solution to the problem of affordable housing in Steamboat as a major goal of the current administration. That does not mean the city itself would necessarily be responsible for finding or funding the housing, but it does mean it is its responsibility to confront the problem directly and start to find the solution.

In that vein, council members were willing to give a few specific ideas toward solving the problem. Councilman Bud Romberg proposed starting a linkage program that would necessitate that those entities creating the need for affordable housing, such as hotels that employ great numbers of people, be made to provide the housing.

“If the goal were to provide affordable housing for the community, then one of the ways in which that could be dealt with is a linkage if you cause the need for affordable housing, then you have to do something about it,” he said.

Councilman Ken Brenner echoed Romberg’s suggestion, saying that council has failed to confront this issue for too long. He said he wants to begin coming up with specific remedies within the next month.