Slowly but surely: Steamboat affordable housing committee digs in on short-, long-term solutions
Months after Steamboat Springs City Council formed an affordable housing committee to tackle the local housing crisis, a list of short- and long-term housing projects members say are doable has emerged.
Three tiers of projects has been developed, according to Deputy Steamboat City Manager Tom Leeson, who sits on the committee alongside council members Lisel Petis and Michael Buccino and Planning Director Rebecca Bessey. The committee has met three times since its creation.
“The question is, What are some of the things the city can do?” Leeson said. “What do we have direct responsibility over and how can we influence affordable housing in the community.”
Leeson identified the first tier as “low-hanging fruit,” which are ideas the city has already implemented, such as a moratorium on vacation home rentals and changing the definition of a family unit to allow for flexibility in zoning codes. The city has also identified land owned partially by the city and partially by UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in which the city would like to build units to house both city and hospital employees. While neither entity has made a firm decision, Leeson said they are hoping to apply for a grant in the fall to help them begin the project.
Soniya Fidler, president of Yampa Valley Medical Center, said while the hospital is still in discussions about any potential projects, housing is necessary for employees of all income levels, including physicians and other well-paid employees, because of Routt County’s lack of supply.
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“This is a problem for every single individual regardless of your income level,” Fidler said. “These are pretty significant investments, so it isn’t something we can just decide on overnight.”
For Tier 2 actions, Leeson said the city hopes to partner with other major employers, like the Steamboat Springs School District and Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp, to build housing units for all in the city who need it, not just city employees. That could be done through partnership with the Yampa Valley Housing Authority.
“We need to at least be exploring everything we can,” Petis said. “For me, things are still progressing too slowly.”
Leeson also pointed to annexing the 536 acres of land west of Steamboat that the Yampa Valley Housing Authority is under contract to purchase as a solution. City Council would need to have a majority vote to annex the land into the city, but city residents could veto the council’s decision through a ballot process.
“Time is money, and if they can get through the process faster, that would certainly help keep costs down for those projects that are affordable housing,” Leeson said.
Long-term housing solutions make up Tier 3, which may take longer to enact, include legislative actions, enacting inclusionary zoning, changing commercial language and retrying items the city has engaged in in the past.
Bessey said while rules vary heavily depending on neighborhood, developers have options to build denser housing, particularly in Steamboat’s mountain neighborhood, which allows for much taller buildings than in the downtown area.
While spreading out housing developments may be difficult without encroaching on the city’s valued open spaces, Bessey said she believes there is a greater future building up rather than out.
“I don’t necessarily think our community is headed toward high rises downtown, but certainly our communities along (U.S.) Highway 40 where we have considerable development, we can achieve taller buildings,” Bessey said. “We’ve agreed that we’re not going to sprawl out into all of our open spaces, but there are options.”
Leeson said the city’s top priority now is finding housing for its own employees, specifically seasonal transit drivers and parks employees. While the land near Barn Village is at the top of the city’s list, the city is also exploring land near Steamboat Springs Transit on 13th Street.
“The Housing Authority is doing an excellent job building units for the community, but we also have a responsibility and a need to make sure we have housing for our employees as well,” Leeson said.
City Council has set aside a work session in September to hear updates from the committee and research further options for employee housing.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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