Our View: City a step closer to getting affordable housing right
July 13, 2013
Suspension of affordable housing fees on developers
City Council was correct this week, from a fairness standpoint alone, to suspend fees on developers.
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.