Our View: YVHA model isn’t sustainable without support
The continued investment from the city and county doesn’t make sense in today’s market reality.
September 15, 2010
Steamboat Springs — The Yampa Valley Housing Authority is sitting in an uncertain position.
Although Routt County residents often have rated affordable housing among their top concerns, the housing authority received a negative reaction when it surveyed the community in 2007 about passing a tax to fund housing programs — and that was when the local economy was booming.
And although Steamboat Springs and county governments in past years have provided at least $80,000 a year each to YVHA, both municipalities are examining their budgets closely this year.
On Tuesday, YVHA officials asked the Steamboat Springs City Council for an additional $60,000 — for a total of $140,000 from the city — to hire a second staff member. The council reacted with doubt.
So if the community agrees there's a need to deal with affordable housing, how can local municipalities continue to fund YVHA during a budget crunch?
Maybe they can't. And maybe they shouldn't.
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YVHA replaced an effective nonprofit organization, the Regional Affordable Living Foundation, and was intended to be self-supporting. But there's no reasonable way for the housing authority to generate income at this point. If voters won't tax themselves for it — and it's unlikely they will, particularly now — then a sustainable income is unlikely.
The agency is in the black on the two projects it runs, Fish Creek Mobile Home Park and Hillside Village Apartments. But because those projects were aided by federal agencies, the money generated by them must go back into the projects. It can't be used to fund the housing authority's operating costs.
At the same time, it's clear that the burst of the housing bubble and the economic downturn have removed much of the urgency from the affordable-housing issue. Housing prices have plummeted. The rental climate is worlds away from what it was in 2007. That makes it even more difficult to support funding an authority to the tune of at least $160,000 in taxpayer dollars.
But it's also naïve to assume Steamboat has seen the last of its affordable-housing problems.
The economy and the housing market will rebound eventually, even if they don't reach the heights of the previous boom. It will become expensive to live here again, and Steamboat will continue to need a work force to support the tourism industry and other businesses.
Meanwhile, the housing authority is sitting on the 11-acre Elk River Village parcel in western Steamboat. YVHA uses about half its funding each year to pay on an interest-only loan for the property, appraised at about $2.1 million. If YVHA loses its funding, that property could enter foreclosure. It has unsuccessfully tried to sell the land.
If the city were to buy that property, it could move toward a model that has worked for areas such as Summit County, which purchased land during depressed financial times and later turned it into successful affordable housing projects.
Of course, Steamboat's budget concerns and a lack of citizen enthusiasm might kill that possibility from the start.
At the same time, land would be easier to buy at current prices than at likely future prices. If the community ignores that, we're poised to let that opportunity pass us by.
It would be ideal for a RALF-like nonprofit group to pick up and run with affordable housing, but the city and county can't count on that.
As it stands, it would be possible to turn over the authority's administrative work to the city.
If the city were to take over the two YVHA properties, which are already mostly run by people on the ground, and the counseling and down payment assistance program, there would be no need to fund a separate YVHA.
As outlined in the YVHA's documents, the agency is required to develop, periodically review, update and implement a multijurisdictional plan that effects the planning, financing, acquisition, construction, reconstruction or repair, maintenance, management and operation of housing projects and programs to be undertaken by YVHA.
The authority cannot carry out that mission with the current funding, lack of support and lack of will from the community. It's time to stop fooling ourselves.
If we truly believe affordable housing will remain a significant issue facing Steamboat Springs, then we should find a new way to address it.