Land run begins | SteamboatToday.com

Land run begins

First units available under ordinance

Brandon Gee

This building at the Sunray Meadows development will house seven affordable housing units to fulfill the Atira Group's mandated contribution.

— Seven condos in south Steamboat Springs have made Curtis Church a very busy man.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook since Monday,” the interim executive director of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority said.

The reason? Last week, development firm The Atira Group put seven affordable housing units on the market. The units, located in the Sunray Meadows condominium complex off Village Drive, are the first units to hit the market since the Steamboat Springs City Council adopted a new affordable housing ordinance in June.

Garrett Simon of The Atira Group estimated the condos would sell for about $500,000 on the open market. But to satisfy the city’s housing laws, the condos – which average about 1,100 square feet – will start as low as $150,000.

The first step to owning one of the affordable condos is approval from the Housing Authority. Only people who earn less than 120 percent of the “area median income” – $61,800 for a one-person household – may purchase one of the units. The condos’ prices are geared for the 80 to 120 percent range, but people who earn less than 80 percent of the area median income – or $41,250 for a one-person household – are not excluded from purchasing one of the units.

“I’ve probably already qualified in two to three days close to 30 people,” Church said Thursday. “There’s a lot of interest. Unfortunately, there’s only seven (units). The number of phone calls I’ve received underscores the fact that affordable housing is a hot commodity in our community.”

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Simon said Atira bought one of 15 buildings in Sunray Meadows to satisfy its affordable housing requirement for the Edgemont development at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area. That project currently is in the city’s approval process. The Steamboat Springs Planning Commission recently voted to deny the latest plans for Edgemont, but Simon said Atira will move forward with the affordable units regardless of where Edgemont stands. The units should be ready for occupancy by the middle of November, Simon said.

“By doing what we’re doing, we’re delivering this more than two years earlier than would have been possible on site,” said Simon, who called the Sunray units a creative solution to Edgemont’s affordable requirement. “It doesn’t always make sense to construct it on site. We don’t know if it’s appropriate to be in the most expensive real estate in the valley.”

City Planning Director Tom Leeson said under the city’s new housing ordinance, developers will normally have to pay a hefty premium – 25 percent more units – to construct their affordable housing requirements offsite. Leeson said the point of the ordinance is to create integrated communities and not have affordable housing units all clustered in one area.

The area immediately adjacent to the ski area, however, is exempt and can provide units offsite or pay a fee to the city in lieu of the units. Simon said Atira is paying the city $280,000 in lieu of three units.

“It generally meets the spirit of the ordinance,” Leeson said of Atira’s affordable housing plan.

Simon, Church and Leeson all said that Atira’s approach to affordable housing will provide a valuable learning experience for future developments.

“They’re the first developer to be required by inclusionary zoning,” Church said. “I don’t know if this is the best answer because we’re working through the kinks.”

Simon has some problems with the current housing legislation, believing it unfairly excludes people outside of the 80 to 120 percent range of area median income.

“We personally feel one deed-restricted unit doesn’t fit all,” Simon said. “You hate saying ‘no’ to someone when it’s such a great opportunity.”

Theoretically, the “linkage” fee requirement of the city’s affordable housing ordinance will aid people who earn less than 80 percent of the area median income. Linkage fees collected so far have not yet been put to use by the city, Leeson said. He said the city most likely will use linkage fees to create public-private partnerships and provide affordable rental housing.

But while linkage fees may eventually cater to the lowest-income residents, Leeson admitted that people making more than 120 percent of the area median income are increasingly excluded from the market.

“That’s something we’re going to have to look at,” Leeson said.

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