Housing Authority in Steamboat considers ballot issue
Housing Authority gets initial input on potential tax proposal
November 19, 2010
Milner — Some of the city's staunchest advocates for affordable housing acknowledged Thursday there are significant challenges to asking voters next year to support a tax for the Yampa Valley Housing Authority.
"I don't believe that the community, in its heart of hearts, believes that there's a need," Bud Romberg said.
Romberg was an inaugural board member of the Housing Authority in 2004 and long has been involved in the development of affordable housing in the area. He was referring Thursday to his perception of the community's appetite for paying an increased tax to support those efforts.
Romberg did not question the need. He equated Steamboat Springs' ability to provide affordable housing to whether residents want to live alongside their co-workers or live next to vacant second homes.
"This whole issue is a question of community character," Romberg said.
The Housing Authority's board of directors invited several people involved in local housing, human services, governance, community groups and others to the Routt County Courthouse on Thursday for a wide-ranging discussion exploring the possibility of asking voters to support the cash-strapped organization.
Asset and program manager Mary Alice Page-Allen has operated as the Housing Authority's sole full-time staffer since the end of 2008, when the organization reduced its duties essentially to managing existing properties amid financial shortfalls.
"We are seriously considering putting something on the ballot for a dedicated funding source in 2011," said Nancy Stahoviak, Housing Authority board member and a Routt County commissioner.
She said the tax could come in the form of a sales tax of 1 percent or less, or a property tax of five mills or fewer. An impact fee could be combined with either of those.
The multi-jurisdictional Housing Authority has a 12-member board of directors and operators under intergovernmental agreements with Steamboat Springs and Routt County, both of which contribute annual funds. The Housing Authority's governmental nature allows it to place an issue on the ballot, but not to run a campaign.
Stahoviak said she hoped many of those in the room Thursday would serve on a citizens' advisory group to help gauge what goals the Housing Authority should set, how to fund those goals and exactly what type and amount of tax would be needed. That work would form the first steps toward a structured campaign next year.
That advisory group, Stahoviak suggested, could then form a campaign committee separate from the Housing Authority. That committee could need significant public outreach efforts.
"It's going to be a real steep climb to look at any kind of property tax in 2011," Steamboat Springs City Councilman Jon Quinn said.
Quinn said a tax measure with a sunset, and tied to a specific project, could have a better chance of winning approval from voters than an open-ended request. Former Housing Authority board member Tony Seaver seconded that idea, and mentioned potential development of the Housing Authority's vacant parcel near the intersection of U.S. Highway 40 and Routt County Road 129.
"I think people respond more positively if they have specific projects in front of them," Seaver said.
But he noted that a short-term funding source would not provide long-term revenue for the Housing Authority.
"That might mean that (a tax measure) is not, first time out of the box, the ultimate solution," Seaver said. "It might just mean a stop-gap."
Stahoviak and current Housing Authority board member John Spezia pointed out that in the final report for Vision 2030 published in April 2009, providing "a dedicated, ongoing funding source" for affordable housing initiatives received very strong support from survey respondents.
Jim Gill said survey answers don't necessarily translate to financial contributions.
"It's a feel-good answer," Gill said. "Is apple pie good? You bet. Is affordable housing good? You bet."