City council FYI: Blueprint for understanding housing success
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Steamboat Springs City Council deals with a large number of policy issues every year. From my time on City Council and the decades prior, it is quite apparent housing policy has been one of the most — if not the most — talked about issue.
In looking at housing policy options, City Council is taking a somewhat different approach than what is seen in most other municipalities. For many years, I have watched and been an active part of discussions on how best to promote housing opportunities in our community.
Discussions on policy ideas have ranged from annexing new land to increasing supply, inclusionary zoning, linkage, property taxes to fund housing, improving the development review process and providing incentives for certain housing types. Yet, noticeably absent from all of these discussions is a focus on what exactly we are trying to accomplish with any of the potential policy actions.
With this in mind, council has taken a step back during the past few months to lay the foundation of defining what housing success looks like here in Steamboat Springs. The concept is simply that we should watch certain measurements and analyze them to see if they are trending in a positive or negative direction. And while government policy cannot serve as a panacea for all housing issues, the hope is that some policies can be implemented that will help move these measurements in a positive direction.
The three measurements that City Council has agreed to monitor are as follows:
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- Workforce efficiency
- Cost-burdened households
- Percentage of home ownership by income levels
Workforce efficiency is a measurement that calculates how many people both work and live in Steamboat. Council feels this is important because part of our core community character that sets us apart from other similar cities is that people who work here also have an opportunity to live here.
As of 2015, the most recent measurement available, 43% of people who work in Steamboat Springs also live in the city. In comparing Steamboat to other mountain communities, we actually outperform all of them including Vail at 36%, Durango at 36%, Aspen at 27%, Glenwood Springs at 24%, Telluride at 13% and Breckenridge at 13%.
The second measurement — cost-burdened households — looks at the percentage of people living in Steamboat Springs with a mortgage or rent payment who spend more than 30% of their gross income on housing costs.
As of 2017, the most recent measurement available, 48% of Steamboat households spend more than 30% of their gross income on a mortgage or rent payment. Perhaps even more concerning is that more than 23% of these households spend more than 50% of gross income on housing. These numbers are similar to other peer communities although slightly worse than many of them.
Finally, in regard to home ownership by income levels, council felt it was important to watch ownership rates of housing across the income spectrum to see how the opportunity for home ownership changes based on income. Not surprisingly, as of 2017, home ownership levels rise substantially as income goes up, particularly once household income reaches $75,000 and above.
Council will monitor these measurements and has tasked city staff with providing policy options and recommendations for consideration that can hopefully make a meaningful impact on these numbers.
We understand that many factors that influence housing affordability and availability are outside of government control and influence. However, City Council believes it is important to consistently monitor these measurements and take policy action if, and when, appropriate.
Jason Lacy is Steamboat Springs City Council president.
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