Our View: Housing report a starting point for change
January 17, 2010
On Tuesday, a citizens committee formed this summer plans to present to the Steamboat Springs City Council a clear, concise analysis of some of the steps needed to finally achieve meaningful affordable housing policy. And although we're optimistic the report will push the city onto the right track, by no means will the coming reform be simple or straightforward.
Put simply, the Affordable Housing Measurement Citizens Committee report makes clear what some in the community have said for some time: Steamboat Springs' affordable housing policies are without a clearly defined purpose or intended beneficiary. And without such clarity, it's impossible to measure the success — thus worth — of the policies.
In August, this Editorial Board posed a number of questions to the council as it prepared to approve revisions to the city's Community Housing Ordinance. The ordinance, first adopted in 2007, establishes requirements for developers to build or help pay for the construction of affordable housing.
Among the questions:
■ How will money collected from developers be spent?
■ What is the long-term role of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority?
■ Is there a specific revenue goal for the city's affordable housing fund?
■ How will the city measure the success of its community housing ordinance?
This last question essentially served as the mission statement for the citizens committee composed of Roger Good, Mark Andersen, Scott Ford, Steve Hofman, Doug Labor, Rich Lowe, Mark Scully and Chuck Williamson. City representatives were Lauren Mooney, Councilman Scott Myller and City Manager Jon Roberts.
The committee concluded that although existing Steamboat Springs affordable housing policy goals may be measurable, they fail to focus on who the city hopes to help through the creation of affordable housing. This lack of a specific intended beneficiary makes it nearly impossible for any policy to be successful throughout time. In other words, if we don't know specifically who we're trying to help, how can we help them? And further, how can we measure the success of the policy?
Defining who it is we want to assist should be the city's first priority as it moves forward with affordable housing efforts. The citizens committee recommends defining specific upper and lower income limits for the intended beneficiaries. It also correctly recommends that all affordable housing initiatives must be focused specifically on that group of intended beneficiaries.
The committee's report includes seven recommendations, with three of them focused on developing and using data-driven reports and studies to regularly analyze housing inventory and work force demographics.
Although we largely agree with the report, by no means does it provide all the answers or a clear path to improved policy.
Politics could be the biggest hurdle facing meaningful, lasting affordable housing policy reform. The council that first approved the Community Housing Ordinance demonstrated an unwillingness to share revenues with the Yampa Valley Housing Authority and, worse yet, engaged in a duplication of efforts with the organization created by the city and county leaders to address affordable housing in Routt County.
And so we remind our political leaders at the city and county levels that what's most important is doing the right thing. And the right thing is helping Routt County remain a vibrant community where its low- and middle-income workers can afford to live. With that goal in mind, we expect that any political barriers eventually will fall.