Steamboat hoping to break ground on affordable housing for city employees by July

Steamboat Springs plans to build a series of dormitory units near the Steamboat Springs Transit office. These units would be used by seasonal bus drivers in the winter and parks and recreation employees in the summer. l John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Steamboat Springs and UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center are hoping to break ground on building housing units in the Barn Village subdivision by July that would be made available primarily to city employees on one side, and hospital employees on the other.

The two entities would share neighboring plots of land, with the hospital’s including 12 units in a multifamily building, and the city’s including 10.

City staff estimated the project would cost the city about $4.5 million, at about $450,000 per unit, though the city plans to apply for a grant through the state’s Department of Local Affairs to offset some of the cost.

The state awards grants between $1 million and $3 million, and Deputy City Manager Tom Leeson told city council at their Tuesday, Jan. 18, meeting that staff would hear back on whether they received the grant in April. If the city gets funding, Leeson said they hope to begin construction in July.

If the city does not receive any grant funding, council members wanted to ensure they were prepared to rely entirely on city money, as they saw affordable housing as an immediate and crucial need.

In response, to a question posed by council member Michal Buccino about how much the city could commit financially if funding doesn’t come through, fellow council member Joella West encouraged other council members to be optimistic.

“I don’t think we have to answer the question of what will we do if we didn’t get any funding,” West said. “If we sit and look at things that way, I don’t think anything would ever happen.”

While all council members agreed on the necessity to move forward with an affordable housing project, some raised eyebrows at the fact that most of the housing, if not all of it, would be reserved for city employees.

As the area is under inclusionary zoning and funding for the project would come from taxpayer dollars, some council members felt the housing should support all community members in need of affordable housing, not just city employees.

“I am a little concerned about the cosmetic look that the city is putting at least some of its own funding into a building that addresses the needs of city employees only,” West said. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, but I do understand that its maybe not as appealing.”

Council member Dakotah McGinlay agreed, and suggested the city explore reserving at least one unit as a lottery system option for non-city employees.

Leeson told council members that the units would first serve city employees, but any units not in use by city employees could be open to any community member, as long as they meet the criteria for affordable housing.

“We’re having a problem right now with several folks that have been hired and aren’t sure if they’re even going to be able to take the job because of housing,” Leeson said. “This would be a great place where we could provide our employees housing for at least six months to a year.”

In addition to the Barn Village project, the city also hopes to move forward on building dormitory-style housing on Thirteenth Street, near Steamboat Springs Transit.

Unlike Barn Village — which could be open to all city employees — city staff envision the Thirteenth Street project being utilized for transit drivers in the winter and parks and recreation employees in the summer.

The city currently houses transit drivers in Flour Mill Apartments and Ski Town Apartments, but Leeson said rent rates increase every year, and spots are not guaranteed, which makes hiring for those positions difficult to impossible.

Leeson said city staff are hoping the dorm housing helps the city recruit employees for low-paying seasonal positions, which are traditionally difficult to hire.

“This is another great tool to help recruit new employees,” Leeson said.

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