Our View: It’s time to revive housing conversation
June 24, 2014
A recent forum and a state report released a few weeks ago have brought two of Routt County's age-old issues — affordable housing and the cost of child care —back to the forefront of community conversation. Both issues are complex and far from new, but as the economy improves and the housing market begins to rebound, it's the right time to re-engage the community and its leaders in a healthy discussion about how Steamboat Springs and Routt County plan to respond to both needs.
The availability of affordable housing — or as we prefer to label it, attainable housing — is pivotal to making sure young professionals, essential workers and those filling service sector jobs can afford to live and work here. The ability to recruit and retain a strong, well-trained and well-educated workforce is crucial to economic growth, and the lack of affordable housing options can limit business expansion.
Based on information presented at a June 13 housing forum held at Citizens Hall in downtown Steamboat, the challenge of providing attainable housing isn't unique to resort communities like Steamboat but the size of this community and its smaller tax base can make the struggle to solve the issue greater.
Speakers at the forum stressed the importance of public-private partnerships and the need for community members to become educated about housing issues as they pertain to the marketplace and property values. Jim DeFrancia, a principal and co-owner of Lowe Enterprises, offered a great description of how teamwork plays a big role in the successful development of attainable housing projects whereby government provides land and infrastructure and private businesses offer the product and imagination. DeFrancia's expert input supports our belief that it is important for government to find a way to make it easier and more economically viable for private companies to build affordable housing units.
Child care costs also factor strongly into Steamboat Springs' livability factor. This month, a new report listed Routt County as the least affordable place in Colorado for couples to raise preschool-aged children. This ranking is not new, but it proves the issue is not going away and still demands the community's attention.
In response to this persistent problem, Routt County has identified the lack of affordable child care and preschool programs as one of seven priorities the county needs to address. A new working group has been convened by county leaders to begin investigating what specific actions could be launched to address the issue.
According to Routt County Commission chairman Tim Corrigan, the county has two options — it can find ways to spark economic improvement so that family income increases and the cost of child care is less of an issue, or it can provide more resources to early childhood education centers to reduce the overall costs of providing high quality programs.
The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association also is joining the quest for a solution to high child care costs. The Chamber's board recently tasked the organization with gathering statistics on the availability of child care here. Once information is compiled, Chamber CEO Tom Kern said the group will define the scope of the problem and see if something can be done to make child care more affordable for parents and families.
Solving the affordable housing and child care cost dilemmas will not be easy, and we realize community leaders are faced with a difficult task. In the case of creating affordable housing incentives or directives, history has shown us that attempts, especially at the city government level, have met with varied success, and some of the actions taken to try to fix the problem have failed miserably.
At this juncture, it's vitally important that government, business and community leaders work together to guide a new conversation about attainable housing and child care costs. The time to create community-wide goals to address these issues is now.
To be successful, this process must involve community education as well as feedback from private business interests along the way. And we think it is wise to include child care costs and transportation needs in any housing affordability discussions moving forward.
It also is important to begin the conversation with a clear picture of actual housing needs and market conditions based on information from employers, employees and industry analysts. This does not need to involve a newly commissioned study but rather a fact-gathering process that defines the current problem in light of today's marketplace conditions and projections on where the economy is headed. The conversation also needs to include an honest evaluation of what worked in the past and what didn't so we don't repeat our past mistakes.
Let's re-energize the community-wide discussion with an eye toward eliminating processes and policies that hinder construction of affordable housing in Steamboat Springs and Routt County and devising new creative public-private partnerships to provide attainable housing and reasonable child care options for a growing work force. As land and building costs begin to rise and before market pressures intensify to pre-recession levels, now is the right time to develop a realistic housing plan that is sustainable and provides a way for this area's valuable workforce to stay in the valley.