Yampa Valley Housing Authority refines its goals | SteamboatToday.com

Yampa Valley Housing Authority refines its goals

Michael Schrantz

— It's been almost 10 years since the Yampa Valley Housing Authority was formed by an intergovernmental agreement between the city of Steamboat Springs and Routt County.

The multijurisdictional housing authority's stated mission is to provide housing solutions for residents who live or work in the area. The organization took over the assets and liabilities of its predecessor, the Regional Affordable Living Foundation, in 2003 and continued to manage affordable housing programs and work toward construction of more inventory for low-income Routt County residents.

The Housing Authority now owns and manages Hillside Village Apartments, which are rented to low-income tenants, and Fish Creek Mobile Home Park. Housing Authority board President Kathi Meyer said the organization has been able to keep lot rents in Fish Creek about $200 less than other mobile home parks in town and give the residents a sense of security that their homes won't be sold from under them. The organization also developed the Fox Creek Village condominium project of deed-restricted units on Hilltop Parkway.

When housing was reaching the height of scarcity in 2006, the Housing Authority purchased a 10-acre Elk River Village development site north of the 7-Eleven on Elk River Road. The Housing Authority has nearly $2 million in debt from the purchase and initially was making interest-only loan payments. Meyer said the organization is in the process of renegotiating the loan. The key is to hold the property until it can be developed, she said. The debt payments on the loan, which are projected to be more than $114,000 this year, put the Housing Authority in a difficult place financially.

When the Housing Authority was formed, its main perceived benefit was the ability to go to voters for tax funding. The organization has tested the waters multiple times but has no immediate plans to put a tax question in front of voters. It continues to rely on annual operational funding from the city and Routt County.

"There has to be an awareness of what the organization is doing," Meyer said, adding that the Housing Authority has to do a better job of educating the public about its programs and assuring voters a tax would be worthwhile.

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For now, the organization is focusing on improving the properties it owns. Meyer said updates and remodels are done on Hillside Village Apartments whenever possible. A search for ways to finance a major infrastructure project at Fish Creek Mobile Home Park has started, said Scott Myller, who is a Housing Authority board member as well as a Steamboat Springs City Council member. Upgrading the water and sewer system at Fish Creek could be a million-dollar project, he said.

"The city has been a partner in a very positive way," Meyer said, noting that the organization would like to borrow against the city's community housing fund to finance the Fish Creek project.

The long-term vision for Fish Creek Mobile Home Park still is to have the residents take over ownership, Meyer said. And although the Housing Authority at one point had given up on that hope, Myller said, at least a partial sale might be viable once a number of hurdles are cleared.

In the future, the Housing Authority would like to own and operate another apartment complex, Meyer said, but it likely would need to be a joint venture taking advantage of tax credits for low-income housing.

When funding was easier to obtain, the Housing Authority was competing at the height of the market with commercial developers, Meyer said. Now that costs are lower, the funding sources aren't there.

"We still can provide services to the community," Meyer said about what the Housing Authority can do in the interim. It continues to operate a down payment assistance program, said Jason Peasley, the organization's executive director. Because of a lack of awareness about changes to lending requirements, the program helped only one homebuyer last year.

The Housing Authority also offers credit counseling classes and homebuyer education.

Meyer said Peasley will be getting additional training to lead homebuyer classes.

"We need to let people know we're still here," Meyer said.

Habitat for Humanity

Another Routt County agency is providing housing for low-income residents the old-fashioned way: one board and nail at a time.

Routt County Habitat for Humanity has built three duplexes and two single-family homes for those making less than 60 percent of the area median income since its founding in 1999. In addition to building homes, Habitat for Humanity also runs a program called A Brush With Kindness that tackles smaller projects for homeowners who need help with upkeep or repairs.

The organization recently opened ReStore, a thrift store that helps fund the administrative costs of the agency and future building projects.

Habitat for Humanity has a relationship with the Yampa Valley Community Foundation that in the past has helped fund the purchase of lots, said Kathi Meyer, who is a member of the local Habitat board, and the agency also recently partnered with Concordia Lutheran Church for a grant from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.

Meyer said more than 300 volunteers contributed about 3,000 hours to finish the agency's recent duplex project for a Routt County family.

"It wasn't required that you swing a hammer," she said, adding that some provided lunch for volunteers and helped in other ways.

The agency likely will focus on its upkeep and repair program this year, Meyer said, but the hope is to build more homes in the Steamboat area in 2014. That's where the demand and the volunteer base is, she said.

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