Housing Authority closes on Steamboat 700 land; Polis says project is good candidate for state support

Yampa Valley Housing Authority Board President Cole Hewitt, middle, and YVHA Executive Director Jason Peasley, right, listen to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who stopped by the former Steamboat 700 property, which is now owned by the Housing Authority, to talk housing Wednesday afternoon as part of a tour of Northwest Colorado. (Photo by John F. Russell)

The Yampa Valley Housing Authority closed on 536 acres of property to the west of Steamboat Springs on Wednesday, officially taking ownership of the former Steamboat 700 property that has long been talked about as an answer to local housing woes.

During a stop at the property as he toured Northwest Colorado on Wednesday, Gov. Jared Polis said the state could be a significant partner to develop the property if plans are moved along fast enough to meet deadlines to spend pandemic relief dollars from the federal government.

“From a state perspective, we want to use this one-time opportunity we have with upwards of $600 million to $700 million,” Polis said. “We want to use these one-time dollars to really transform the landscape for housing affordability.”

Polis said he wanted to spend this windfall of money on helping Colorado catch up on affordable housing by increasing inventory across the state. Because of the timing of the Housing Authority’s purchase of land it wants to develop into locals housing, Polis said he was excited to see how the state could help.

“When you look at the magnitude of a project like this, will it meet every need forever? Not necessarily,” Polis said. “But will it meet the needs of where Steamboat is and is likely to be in the near future? It really will.”

The final cost for the housing authority was $24 million, just a million more than the initial offer put forward in July. An anonymous donor funded the land deal.

Jason Peasley, executive director of the Housing Authority, said the next step for the project is to engage the community about what the development should look like. Peasley said they are envisioning a mixed-use plan for the space that would incorporate housing, child care resources, retail space and other support services.

While community outreach and feedback is important, Polis said the faster a plan can be put together, the more money the state may be able to chip in to help.

“I think the community by and large understands the issue,” Polis said. “At the end of the day, the state is in a unique position.”

The governor added that because the land is already purchased, the project looks very attractive from a state perspective. The city of Steamboat Springs and Routt County putting some of their federal stimulus dollars toward the project could also help leverage more state support.

The Yampa Valley Housing Authority closed on this property west of Steamboat Springs on Wednesday morning. The Housing Authority is hoping to use the 536-acre property as the site for locals housing for the Yampa Valley. (Photo by John F. Russell)

The sense of urgency stems from the fact that most of the one-time money the state has needs to be committed by 2024 and spent by 2026. Peasley said the window for the state to spend this money lines up pretty well with the timeline to build on the property.

Much of the money Colorado received was set aside by the Legislature so there could be a nuanced approach to spending it.

Rep. Dylan Roberts, a Democrat who represents Routt County, sits on one of the two committees — one focused on housing, the other focused on behavioral health — set up to recommend how the state should spend that money.

The housing committee will start work next week with the charge of preparing a report for the Colorado General Assembly that will recommend how the state should spend the $450 million it has targeted toward housing. The committee can also look at solutions like regulations for short-term rentals, building codes and other laws that may stymie progress on a housing project.

Roberts is the only Western Slope legislator on the 10-member, bipartisan committee, which he said is important because of how different housing struggles can be in mountain towns compared to Front Range suburbs.

“I’m really fighting as hard as I can to make sure that we get our fair share in the mountains,” Roberts said. “The fact that I can go down there and say, ‘Look at this amazing project that already has the land purchased and is ready to take off,’ could be a really beneficial thing.”

Rick Garcia, executive director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, said this stimulus money would flow through his agency, and there is money that could be available right away to help with planning on the project.

“Those dollars are going to be directed to the division of housing at DOLA to be dispersed and used, occurring in an effective way,” Garcia said. “This is a great opportunity to see some of those dollars go around.”

There is other state, federal and maybe even philanthropic dollars geared toward sustainability that the project could qualify for as well.

“It’s the best possible time to attract state funds,” Polis said. “Two years ago, I’m sure we would have helped in some way, but it wouldn’t have been the same kind of discussion.”

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