Our View: Housing authority on the right track | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Housing authority on the right track

As we enter 2015, one of the major challenges facing the Steamboat Springs community is a scarcity of affordable rental housing. The increasingly tight rental market has caused rents to rise, and more and more people living here on moderate incomes are finding it extremely difficult to secure housing.

It's a problem that is causing headaches for employers looking to fill positions in a growing economy, and it could be a key contributor to Routt County's recently declared labor shortage.

With this issue in mind, we were encouraged by the news that the Yampa Valley Housing Authority was seeking interest from private developers in a proposed plan to build affordable rental apartments on a 10-acre tract of land YVHA owns in West Steamboat. YVHA is hoping to interest developers in the project through the use of federal tax credits, which would be sold and used by the local housing authority to bring equity to the project.

The 10 acres on Elk River Road were purchased by YVHA in 2006 near the height of the real estate boom in Steamboat when the need for workforce housing was at a premium. The original plan for the property called for construction of 13 small single-family homes and 54 affordably priced condominiums.

The city permit approving that development plan since has expired, and now, YVHA officials are seeking to build rental apartments on the property instead to meet what they have determined to be a greater need.

According to YVHA Executive Director Jason Peasley, there is a significant need for rental housing for households earning 40 to 60 percent of the median average income here, which at 60 percent equates to an annual income of $37,200 for a two-person household.

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In response, the local housing authority decided to issue a request for affordable housing proposals from a wider pool of qualified developers and consultants. Those proposals were submitted last week and will be reviewed by the YVHA board early next year.

An affordable housing project in Crested Butte recently was awarded Low Income Housing Tax Credit financing, which is encouraging news for the Steamboat project. In Crested Butte, the plan is to build 30 apartments with 13 units available to households earning 50 percent of the average median income in Gunnison County and 17 for people making 60 percent.

Based on the current rental market and income guidelines, Peasley thinks there is clear demand for 50 apartments or more in Steamboat.

At this point in time, the YVHA plan is in the very preliminary stages, and the $2 million the housing authority owes on the property could be a deal breaker. That amount of debt on a property that appraised for $1.5 million in 2012 could make it very difficult for YVHA to enter into a development agreement that satisfies all parties involved.

But even with those challenges, we think YVHA is headed in the right direction by seeking to use the property for the purpose it was purchased rather than trying to sell the land to get out from under the debt.

They also are seeking a solution to Steamboat's shortage of rental housing at an opportune time, and we think it would be extremely difficult for YVHA to find another large parcel of land to buy in Steamboat even if they still had $2 million to spend.

We also like the fact that YVHA is looking at a private-public partnership rather than a government-only fix. The project probably will require some government subsidy due to the high debt but it will be a lot less than if YVHA were trying to accomplish the project alone without private investment.

At issue

Yampa Valley Housing Authority wants to partner with private developers to build affordable rental apartments in West Steamboat

Our view

YVHA leaders are headed in the right direction by seeking a private-public solution to Steamboat’s tight rental

housing market.