Steamboat school board eyes district-owned land for teacher housing
Study released last week found just 11% of homes in Steamboat are affordable for local teachers
The Steamboat Springs school board is looking to the district-owned property near Whistler Park, once considered for a new school, as a potential spot to develop housing for teachers.
On Monday, Aug. 15, Yampa Valley Housing Authority Executive Director Jason Peasley told the school board he was interested in partnering with the district on a project, though it would likely be three to four years before anyone could move in.
“From the moment that we all sit around and say, ‘Yep, this is what we’re doing,’ it’s probably three to four years before someone’s living in those homes,” Peasley said. “It’s not a quick fix, even though that’s the quickest fix.”
School board members have frequently talked about using land the district owns to build housing for staff, occasionally mentioning the 9.2 acre parcel bought in 1980 with a future school in mind.
But these discussions have never homed in on specifics about what district housing for teachers might look like or what the board’s intention is for the Whistler property long term.
“I think sooner rather than later we should talk about what people’s ideas are for how we could make a difference as soon as possible,” said Board President Katy Lee, noting that the timeline may be three to four years at the soonest.
Lee said ideas could include transitional housing for teachers or homes available for purchase by teachers or other school staff, but the board hasn’t discussed any of these ideas at length.
Peasley said the first step toward a development partnership would be for the school board to decide what the district hopes to get out of a development — a discussion Lee said she wanted to get on the agenda as soon as staff can pull together the appropriate background information.
“That’s not a simple conversation,” Peasley said. “Whenever you guys are ready to decide what you want to do with that parcel or other parcels that you own, if the answer is housing, let us know and we will be happy to partner with you on that.”
A study released on Tuesday, Aug. 16, from the nonpartisan Keystone Policy Center showed only about 20% of Colorado homes are priced low enough to be considered affordable for teachers earning an average wage in their district.
In the Steamboat Springs School District — which is one of just 18 districts in the state that pays teachers above Colorado’s average — that was even lower, with only 11% of the homes being deemed attainable for area teachers.
The study found that in 2015, there were more than 3,200 homes in the district that could be considered affordable for teachers, meaning costs associated to housing like a mortgage and property taxes would amount to 30% or less of their income.
In 2021, 60% of those homes were no longer deemed affordable, leaving 1,287 homes within their reach. That decline is despite teachers making $8,000 more per year on average in 2021 than they did six years earlier.
“There are few parts of the state where higher salaries are associated with better access to affordable ownership,” the study says. “This is not to say that higher salaries are not a tool to address affordability, but rather that salaries have not kept pace with home prices in many districts.”
Districts leveraging their assets such as land is one solution to increase affordable housing stock for teachers, the study suggests.
The Whistler parcel is adjacent to land owned by Steamboat Springs, including Whistler Park. The district has an agreement with the city to allow recreational uses on the land, and it is currently used as a dog park and field space. That agreement does have a termination clause, according to district finance director Stephanie Juneau.
The property was one of two sites where the district considered building another school in 2019, but the board ultimately decided land it owned near Steamboat II was a better option. Sleeping Giant School opened to the west of Steamboat last fall.
At the time, many neighbors near Whistler were opposed to building a new school because of concerns over the traffic it would bring, the impact it would have on wildlife and what would happen with the city-owned park. Peasley stressed it would be important to involve neighbors when gauging housing near Whistler.
“I think we need to figure this out,” school board member Lara Craig said. “When are we having these discussions, what is our priority? What do we need to do?”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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