Affordable housing and Steamboat’s lack of it spurs joint city-county discussion
Kathy Diemer, owner of Johnny B. Goods Diner in downtown Steamboat Springs, said she and other business owners are “terrified.”
“The housing market is frightening,” Diemer told a joint meeting of the Steamboat Springs City Council and Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday. “Everyday I talk to people who have lost staff, because their staff lost their housing.”
Coming out of the pandemic, the housing market in Steamboat has been crazy, seeing real estate sales records, surging house prices and waitlists for affordable housing units so long it could take decades for someone to reach the top. The problem is exacerbating a shortage of workers for low-wage positions, but it extends to higher earners as well.
Still, Yampa Valley Housing Authority Executive Director Jason Peasley said it isn’t all “doom and gloom.”
“We’ve done a lot of hard work over the last three or four years to put us in a position to be able to say, ‘Help is on the way,’” Peasley said. “That doesn’t mean that the work is done.”
The Housing Authority opened up 72 units at Alpenglow Village last year. The Sunlight Crossings project currently under construction on the west side of Steamboat Springs will add 90 more units next year and another project on Anglers Drive would add another 75 units in 2023.
Housing is being discussed across the valley, even coming up during budget surplus discussions for the Steamboat Springs School District on Monday. The affordable housing topic was a late addition to the joint city-county meeting agenda, prompting the need for another in June.
Peasley said local elected leaders need to capitalize on the current energy in the community about affordable housing.
“Let’s focus that in a way that we can be investing in the future of housing, creating changes today that will result in more housing later on down the road,” Peasley said.
He pointed to a 2016 report from the Community Housing Steering Committee, which outlines several changes the city and county could do on their own to help create affordable housing. He said they could make strategic code changes that would make it easier for affordable housing project to get approved.
Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan said he wants to work on the changes suggested in the 2016 report that the county has not completed. He said keeping the scope smaller, focused on what the county can achieve on its own, is better than getting sidetracked by bigger picture solutions.
“There are some very specific things that I think Routt County could do that will help,” Corrigan said.
Peasley said some of these changes, like expediting the review process for affordable housing projects, wouldn’t cost the city or county more money.
“It’s not the one thing that is going to make a project successful or more successful, but a bunch of those stacked together will make a difference,” Peasley said.
Commissioner Beth Melton said housing will be an important component of upcoming master planning efforts, but she also has worked with the county planning department to figure out what they could do sooner.
Steamboat Council President Jason Lacy suggested they should take a more regional approach to the issue, reaching out to Hayden, Oak Creek and maybe even Craig to determine if they could be potential partners. Peasley said those communities are part of the solution, but the Housing Authority has focused on Steamboat Springs, as that is where it has taxing authority.
“I also believe that we have to start looking outside of our boundaries and realize that we have to bring in our partners, not only with the county but the surrounding cities,” said council member Heather Sloop.
Council member Sonja Macys suggested they should be engaging large employers like Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. and UCHealth about what they could do together to add housing. The Housing Authority is having that conversation, Peasley said, even though it has not led to a project yet.
Macys pointed to the Basalt Vista Housing project, a workforce housing project between Pitkin County, the town of Basalt, the Roaring Fork School District and Roaring Fork Habitat for Humanity as a potential model for partnerships.
The council discussed affordable housing last week and has a subcommittee with council members Lisel Petis and Michael Buccino using the 2016 report to guide suggested changes. Buccino said finding housing for city employees has always been a struggle.
“I think the city as a municipality needs to solve this for ourselves right now,” Buccino said. “Something that we lead by example to the community, instead of waiting for a public-private partnership to solve the problem.
“We have reserves, we have the decision and we have land that we can build our own thing right now,” Buccino said. “It seems like we are always collaborating and trying to wait for the collaboration, but no one ever comes to the table and nothing gets done.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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