Workforce housing tax passes in Steamboat
November 7, 2017
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Sheila Henderson was all smiles at a downtown watch party Tuesday night when she learned Steamboat Springs voters were backing a tax proposal that is expected to provide safer, more convenient housing opportunities for the low-income clients Henderson works with every day.
"For our clients, it’s all about safe living environments for people living in poverty," the Integrated Community executive director said. "This means more housing supply."
Referendum 5A, which will use a 1-mill property tax levy to create a dedicated funding source for the development of low-income, seasonal and permanently affordable housing, won with 2,842 “yes” votes to 2,248 “no” votes.
The tax, which is expected to generate $900,000 annually starting next year, will sunset in 10 years.
Henderson has seen firsthand how the scarcity of affordable housing in Steamboat has negatively affected families.
Some of her clients in Steamboat have had to share units so cramped that even a laundry room becomes a bedroom at night.
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Elsewhere around the city, Steamboat Ski Area workers are facing tighter living situations with up to five roommates, and others are sleeping in their cars.
Henderson was joined at the election-night celebration by business leaders and members of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, which proposed the tax.
"We're thrilled," Housing Authority Board President Roger Ashton said. "We're thrilled the community is behind this, and we can move forward."
Ashton said there are already potential housing projects in the works that he hopes to announce soon. However, he did caution residents that more housing won't appear overnight.
Ashton noted it took three years for the Housing Authority's latest project to go from a plan to providing leases for tenants.
But the money approved by voters will start getting the pipeline going, Ashton said.
"In a few years, we should start to see a new project every year," he added.
Jon Quinn, who worked on the campaign to pass the tax measure, credited the Housing Authority and its track record for the successful vote Tuesday night.
"Their success made it really easy to sell this measure," Quinn said. "It's a good win for the community."
The success of the housing tax measure comes at a time when seasonal and low-income workers face another tight and expensive rental market.
Many one-bedroom units are renting for more than $1,200 a month, and rents in other unit types appear to be climbing.
Housing in the area is so scarce, the ski area recently announced it was adding more bunk beds to its employee housing units and considering another housing subsidy program.
The campaign in support of the housing tax generated more than $26,000 in donations.
The estimated cost to the taxpayers will be $36 of additional property tax annually per $500,000 of assessed residential valuation. And for commercial properties with a valuation of $500,000, the tax is estimated to be $145 per year.
“This is a win for the community,” Steamboat City Councilwoman and Housing Authority board member Kathi Meyer said after celebrating the election results. “This means lots of new housing for the community.”