Our View: Housing flexibility needed | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Housing flexibility needed

— As the city’s landmark affordable housing policies are enacted in new development projects, the Steamboat Springs City Council must be prepared to adapt those policies to existing market conditions. Without adaptation, the policies have little chance of achieving their desired and worthwhile result: the creation of attainable housing for our work force.

When the previous City Council adopted the city’s inclusionary zoning and linkage ordinance just more than a year ago, the goal, put simply, was to deliver the right housing product at the right price and right time for our work force.

But the housing market is changing. Numbers that seemed to work on paper in June 2007 might not work in the reality of June 2008. And for developers, who rarely can afford to have unoccupied units sitting on the market, timeliness is everything.

A case in point is the struggling sales at First Tracks, the affordable housing development associated with the Wildhorse Meadows and One Steamboat Place projects.

First Tracks’ requirements mandate that the average buyer of an affordable unit make 100 percent of the Area Median Income. Meeting that requirement means having a mix of buyers in the 80 percent to 120 percent range.

But those who have showed the most interest in First Tracks – and qualified to be purchasers – make an average of less than 80 percent of AMI.

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“We’ve done everything we could,” said Brent Pearson, vice president of Resort Ventures West. “It’s just been difficult to get people to buy into (First Tracks) based on the facts of the deed restrictions.”

Developers from Resort Ventures West have proposed several requirement changes to help sell the units, including allowing businesses to purchase the units for their employees, instituting an occupancy-based deed restriction, and allowing appraisal-based deed restrictions, which would give buyers the chance to realize greater growth in equity once the property is vested.

Steamboat Springs Community Housing Coordinator Nancy Engelken has suggested similar adjustments, as well as changing developer requirements from being based on the number of units to total square footage.

The conversations and ideas are encouraging. They show a creativity that will be particularly important as larger development projects come on line, notably Steamboat 700. Flexibly meeting the demands of a changing housing market will benefit sellers and buyers of local affordable housing – and ultimately benefit the entire community.

Not to be forgotten is the ongoing market demand analysis sponsored by the city, Steamboat 700, the Yampa Valley Housing Authority and a number of local businesses and developers. The study, with results expected in August, aims to paint a clear picture of the actual housing needs of the community based on direct feedback from employers and employees.

As First Tracks is proving, and as we believe the market demand analysis will show, the city’s housing ordinances already are in need of tweaking.

Armed with information from the market demand analysis and the experience of developments such as First Tracks, the City Council should find itself in a position to make needed, appropriate changes to its affordable housing policies to keep a thriving work force in the Yampa Valley.