City to address housing concerns
Diane Mitsch Bush hears it from people who moved to Steamboat Springs in the 1970s or 1980s like she did.
They were able to save up and buy a house, they tell her. Why do we need to provide affordable housing now?
Mitsch Bush does–n’t see things the same way.
“That statement, in my mind, is ridiculous,” she said. “It fails to realize that the housing market is entirely different now and that housing prices are so out of reach for the average person.”
Mitsch Bush knows the changing market from experience. Her house cost $220,000 in 2000; it was last sold in the mid-1980s for about $83,000. And today’s market is a long way from 1976, when she bought a three-bedroom home downtown for $39,000.
City officials have taken notice of the change and are attempting to address its ramifications.
On Tuesday, the City Council will conduct a first reading of the city’s inclusionary zoning ordinance. A second reading will be necessary to make it a regulation.
The ordinance proposes a citywide requirement on residential development projects. New projects would have to include a certain percentage of affordable housing. If the ordinance were approved, most types of development projects won’t be approved unless developers contribute to affordable housing.
The ordinance would require that 15 percent of a residential development include affordable housing. Half of that housing would be for those who make 80 percent or less of the county’s annual median income. The other half would be for households making 120 percent or less. The annual median income for a family of four is about $72,700.
To qualify for the housing, a household must make 120 percent or less of the AMI; also, 80 percent of the household’s income must consist of money earned within Routt County, unless the head of the household is retired.
Developers would have several ways to comply with the ordinance. The ordinance states that the options are provided to allow flexibility and allow developers creativity when working to achieve the city’s goal for affordable housing.
The options include developing the units, dedicating lots on the same site as the market rate units, dedicating lots off site, dedicating land and paying money in lieu of providing the housing directly. Developers also would have the option to create their own proposals for contributing to affordable housing.
The inclusionary zoning ordinance is one of two tools city officials plan to use to promote the addition of housing in Steamboat.
Elizabeth Black, the executive director of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, said inclusionary zoning is an effective and efficient way of getting housing built.
Tom Leeson, the city’s planning director, said inclusionary zoning has held up against legal challenges. It’s also a way to make affordable housing a part of the zoning code, he said.
“It’s effective in housing markets that are strong,” Leeson said.
The other tool city officials are looking at is employee housing linkage, which explores the relationship between commercial space and the employee need it creates. Employees who are hired require housing, so commercial developers can be required to provide funding for housing or to build residential units. The units may or may not count as affordable housing because they are for employees whose pay could vary.
The City Council has hired RRC Associates to perform a Nexus study to determine the relationship between commercial space and employee need. The city this month is sending out a survey to residents and property owners as a way to gain more information about employment patterns and housing.
When city officials crafted Steamboat’s inclusionary zoning ordinance, they looked to Mount Crested Butte. The town uses tools similar to those that Steamboat officials are looking at.
Bill Racek, the town’s community development director, said that the city’s housing tools have been helpful in getting employees in new developments as well as existing ones. Also, he said, the measure helps promote the town’s vitality.
Developers haven’t shied away from the town because of the regulations, Racek said. They can receive bonuses such as increased height or reduced parking spaces.
As written, Steamboat’s ordinance does not mention any types of incentives for developers. But the City Council will still have the option to provide bonuses, Leeson said.
Why the push?
In the county’s 2003 housing needs assessment study, 870 households indicated that they spent 50 percent or more of their incomes on housing. The standard guideline for affordable housing in the nation is that rent or mortgage payments should be 30 percent or less of a household’s income.
The Fox Creek Village affordable housing project will have 30 units, for which 294 people have put their name on the waiting list, Black said. More than 80 percent of those people earn 80 percent or below of the AMI.
Why are so many people struggling to find housing? It’s happening because locals are finding themselves in the same market as second-home owners, Black said.
“The real estate market is defined by the second-home market,” she said. “Locals have to pay the same price. Their wage scale, however, is far below the wealth scale of a second-home owner.”
The city’s proposed ordinance points out the wide spread between pay and the cost of housing. “Housing costs in Steamboat Springs have increased at a much higher rate than income has increased,” the ordinance reads.
Some people in Steamboat are attempting to use housing “steps” — from condominium to townhouse to house — to gain enough equity to buy a house, but it’s not working, Black said. Selling a townhouse in an attempt to buy a house doesn’t necessarily work here, she said.
“That first step is such a big jump in Steamboat Springs,” Black said.
When people are pushed out of Steamboat, they look to outlying areas for housing. Some of those people, Black said, will bring their expectations with them. They therefore increase the demand for transportation options, infrastructure, schools and medical services, creating a cost that wouldn’t have existed if people could live where those services are already in place.
Also, Mitsch Bush said, it’s a matter of turning away people who want to stay in Steamboat.
“We are losing talented young people, people that we want to stay here and call it home,” she said.
Deed-restricted housing is meant to create opportunity for those who struggle to find housing. A deed restriction places a condition or multiple conditions on the cost of a residential unit. For example, a person may have to be an employee in the county where the unit is or there may be an income restriction on the unit.
The city’s ordinance focuses on income levels because those are the people in need, Black said.
Deed restrictions aren’t always popular. During the city planning commission’s review of the proposed ordinance earlier this month, Planning Commissioner Tom Ernst said he didn’t like them. They eliminate the opportunity for a person to establish wealth, he said.
Black said establishing wealth really isn’t what her clients are thinking about. Many of her clients have no discretionary income, she said.
“People can’t afford to do it that way,” she said. “(Affordable housing) is there to make a home for somebody.”
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