‘Our community is suffering’: Steamboat City Council member says inaction on affordable housing policies would send a bad message
February 8, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A Steamboat Springs City Council member appeared frustrated Tuesday by what she felt was the city's inaction in recent years on enacting any policies to promote the creation of new workforce housing.
Councilwoman Sonja Macys was specifically critical of the continued suspension of rules called inclusionary zoning that used to force developers to create affordable housing units or pay a fee in lieu of their creation.
The rules were first suspended in 2013, and the suspension has been extended six times without any replacement, most recently on Tuesday.
The discussion sparked a debate about whether a recent property tax passed to build workforce housing is sufficient to meeting the community’s needs or if the city itself needs to adopt or bring back more policies that will incentivize the creation of more units.
"We suspended (the inclusionary zoning rules) again for another year, then you folks suspended it for another year and nothing has happened," Councilwoman Macys said. "For some reason, this has not come back as it has been asked to come back every single time."
The community housing rules were first suspended by a city council that thought they weren't fair to developers and weren't accomplishing the goals of creating affordable units.
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Macys said she suspected previous councils did not revisit the affordable housing rules because the economy was in a downturn, and there wasn't the political will to consider them at the time.
But Macys said times have changed considerably since the ordinance was suspended for the first time back in 2013.
"The people in the community are saying we need to do something," she said.
After some council members suggested suspending the housing ordinance for as long as two years, Macys said she felt that would send a bad message to the community.
"What it says to me and our community is we've got (our housing), good luck," Macys said.
Councilman Scott Ford and Robin Crossan disagreed with that statement.
Ford said he felt the previous affordable housing policy was a backdoor tax.
"It's not an honest way of doing business," he said.
There were also concerns on the council dais that the previous affordable housing rules passed on additional costs to homebuyers.
Councilwoman Kathi Meyer suggested suspending the inclusionary zoning rules for another two years to give the Yampa Valley Housing Authority time to deliver on its pledges to use a new property tax to create more workforce housing.
“The community wants to tax themselves, and I say that's the best way to get supply and a dedicated funding source,” Meyer said.
Macys questioned whether that tax funding will help create homes that first-time homebuyers and others could purchase.
The council decided in a 4-3 vote to extend the suspension of the affordable housing rules for another six months.
Macys, Lisel Petis, Jason Lacy and Heather Sloop favored extending the suspension instead of repealing it at this time. Crossan, Meyer and Ford voted against it.
Macys said she voted in favor of the move because she was convinced the council was committed to addressing the issue of a lack of affordable housing.
The council will revisit the former housing rules and decide whether to revive or repeal them while it also looks at other potential policies to incentivize affordable housing that range from waiving or reducing fees to embracing tiny homes.