Our View: Time for housing leadership
November 19, 2008
The very real possibility that the Yampa Valley Housing Authority will dissolve in the coming year begs a question: Who will take the leadership role in providing affordable work force housing in Routt County?
The answer seemed obvious in 2003, when an intergovernmental agreement between the city and county formed the Yampa Valley Housing Authority. Indeed, the Housing Authority has compiled a commendable list of accomplishments, from the development of Fox Creek Village to the purchase of Fish Creek Mobile Home Park to the execution of this summer’s housing demand analysis. In all, the Housing Authority has managed, planned or constructed more than 240 affordable housing units, almost all of which are within Steamboat Springs city limits.
But the Housing Authority’s future is uncertain. During a board meeting last week, Housing Authority officials gave preliminary approval to a 2009 budget that would reduce staffing from three to one and limit its role to managing existing assets rather than expanding opportunities for new workforce housing. The shell of the former authority would manage Fish Creek Mobile Home Park and Hillside Village Apartments while also continuing to pay the mortgage on a 10-acre parcel of land at Elk River Road and U.S. Highway 40. Plans to develop that property into 67 affordable housing units – including single-family homes and two- and three-bedroom units in multi-family buildings – have been postponed indefinitely. The board now plans to attempt to sell the 10-acre parcel.
The city of Steamboat Springs and Routt County have provided annual funding to the Housing Authority, but the city’s duplication of housing efforts and apparent unwillingness to cede authority to the agency has played a key role in the circumstances now facing the Housing Authority.
In the past two years, the city has passed inclusionary zoning and linkage ordinances mandating the creation of affordable housing or a payment in lieu from developers. The city also hired a community housing coordinator and purchased the Iron Horse Inn to provide work force housing for city employees and others. But city officials have refused to coordinate with or hand over sufficient responsibilities and funds to the agency it helped create for the sole purpose of tackling the local affordable housing issue. Likewise, the city has contracted with a private property management company to operate the Iron Horse, when handing that responsibility to the Housing Authority could have been another source of revenue for the agency.
City Council President Loui Antonucci previously has said the city shouldn’t be in the housing business – a position contradicted by recent city staffing and decisions. We tend to agree with Antonucci, but we also believe attainable workforce housing is an important issue in our community. If the city is content to watch the existing Housing Authority dissolve, so be it. But it is then incumbent upon city officials to take a leadership role in creating, implementing and managing an articulated, coordinated community affordable housing program.
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There is much to do, including revising the city’s affordable housing ordinances, devising a long-term plan for the Iron Horse Inn, and leveraging funds from the payment in lieu option to provide affordable housing. The city also would be wise to consider assuming the loan for the 10-acre Elk River parcel. Perhaps the most significant challenge in developing affordable housing in Routt County is obtaining the land on which to build it. It would be a shame to see that land sold for purposes other than work force housing. Finally, long-term management of Fish Creek Mobile Home Park and Hillside Village Apartments needs to be addressed.
The struggling economy and the challenge in finding qualified buyers for deed-restricted units at Wildhorse Meadows’ First Tracks project, for example, signal an appropriate time for the city and community to rethink its strategies for affordable housing. It is time for local government to get its act together and provide sensible answers to an issue that is central to the long-term economic and social needs of this community.