Hiring and retention issues drive Steamboat school board to consider employee housing
With counties across Colorado starting to provide affordable housing options for educators and staff, Steamboat Springs School District looks to hop on the wagon.
At the March 20 Board of Education meeting, the district announced it will be sending out a request for proposal for a housing needs and opportunity assessment.
“It’s all-encompassing. It would provide a detailed analysis for affordable housing price points and rents for the population of educators,” board member Alissa Merage said. “We look to focus on retention, attrition, retirement and overall district needs.”
Board members Lara Craig and Merage have led the initiative and conducted initial research from other mountain communities that have found success in providing affordable employee housing.
The idea first came about last year when the board considered potential areas where employee housing could go. Merage said possibilities include the three properties owned by the school district — one near Whistler Park, one near Sleeping Giant, one near Eighth Street — and potentially Brown Ranch.
Still in the preparation stages of the housing needs and opportunity assessment, the board first must identify funding sources as just a small portion of school funds remain earmarked to conduct the study.
“We hope to ensure that we are able to fill our positions with qualified teachers and staff for the long-term,” Craig said.
Craig, a longtime Steamboat resident, said a driving force behind her backing the initiative is personal experience and interactions with educators who could not afford to stay in the county.
“There have been times where I was serving as a member of an interview committee and we chose and began preparing the best candidate and then had the candidate decline the position because they cannot afford housing here,” Craig said. “It’s devastating to watch.”
The district sent out a preliminary study to staff to gauge the need for affordable housing. Craig said that study had 190 respondents, half of the staff at large, and 40% of respondents were interested in a housing plan.
The study indicates 60% of the district’s staff has permanent housing. According to Craig and Merage, the intention behind affordable housing, something that would take a few years to enact, would be to help attract staff with longevity.
A Keystone Policy Center study from August 2021 showed that only 11% of the homes in Steamboat were deemed attainable for area teachers.
Craig noted the budget stabilization factor, a mechanism created by the legislature that takes money out of Colorado’s education fund in order to balance out other areas in need of funding, continues to play a huge role in creating statewide issues with adequately paying teachers.
Merage indicated the county will likely follow Eagle County’s lead considering the success it found conducting a similar study and master plan.
Eagle County committed $5.4 million dollars to address its housing crisis through a nine-part action plan that included an addition of a housing department employee to help administer new offerings, buy down and deed restriction program, and a homeless stability grant.
They also look to carry out an accessory dwelling unit buildout with the intention of keeping rental properties for educators. Once one educator moves out, the goal is to rent the property to another educator versus raising the price in efforts to get other tenants in the space.
Aspen City Council added eight two-bedroom affordable housing units for educators and staff of the school district this August.
“A lot of other mountain towns are ahead of us on this and it’s time we try to follow suit,” Craig said.
Kit Geary is the county, public safety and education reporter. To reach her, call 970-871-4229 or email her at kgeary@SteamboatPilot.com.
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