Townsfolk debate affordable housing |

Townsfolk debate affordable housing

— The end is near.

That’s what one local man told Steamboat Springs City Council members Monday night at the second in a series of three neighborhood meetings.

“After careful consideration, we decided we’re doomed,” Herald Stout quipped.

Stout was only kidding, and apparently, the end is not so near after all. Members of the gathering energetically proposed solutions to the riddle that is affordable housing in Ski Town U.S.A.

The meeting was called to discuss the results of the 1999 Community Survey, which were released last month. More than 1,500 people filled out the survey. After a third meeting is held from 7 to 9 p.m., May 15, at the Community Center, the city will schedule a community-wide meeting in June.

Stout, a local Realtor and developer, was the designated reporter for a breakout group that devoted its energies to discussing future directions for the city. He suggested that, when it comes to entry level housing, it’s important to distinguish between “affordable housing” and “affordable equity.” Too often, he said, new developments pitched as affordable housing for local residents become the object of real estate speculation, even on the part of the people they were meant to help. Thus, they are in reality, nothing more than affordable equity for select families. Steamboat should adopt a system similar to one in place in Aspen, Stout said, where formally designated affordable housing can only be sold back to the local housing authority.

Otherwise, he cautioned, “the money exits the valley and nobody gets anywhere.”

Stout also suggested that employers in the valley need to take a hard look at wage and salary scales. Too often, he said, the focus is on what people can spend, and not what they actually make in income.

“It’s not fair to ask people to support affordable housing programs just to subsidize employers who won’t pay their employees what they’re worth,” Stout said. In that case, he said, taxes go up to support affordable housing, and people who once had affordable housing come to find themselves in a pinch.

Jim Funk, a local property manager, said the city should do more to encourage a well-developed mobile home park.

“Why isn’t somebody developing a nice mobile home park to house the employees we need?” Funk asked. “It’s an easy answer. I don’t know why you haven’t considered it.”

Brian Kelly said the city may have to consider compromising some of its planning goals in order to help stimulate development of affordable housing. Kelly, a local surveyor, said he estimates that, in some cases, planning considerations like landscaping and trails are adding $10 to $20 per square foot to the cost of housing.

“Do we want it all to look pretty, or do we want people to be able to afford to live here?” Kelly asked.

Kelly predicted that by fall, Routt County may be home to between 12 and 15 homes in excess of 10,000 square feet. Members of his breakout group, who discussed residents’ satisfaction with the community, wondered if some of the money tied up in those large homes could be captured by impact fees and shifted to help fund affordable housing.

Rob Wilmoth, reporter for the breakout group devoted to housing, suggested the increase in home prices is shifting the makeup of the community.

“Entry level housing has risen dramatically in such a short time it’s locked us into a certain demographic that can afford to move here,” Wilmoth said. “That’s changed town quite a bit.”

Steve Downs, another local Realtor, suggested some relief could be on the way in the form of new long-term rental housing coming off the short-term market. He said it’s part of a cycle longtime residents have seen before. The recent boom in condominium, hotel and townhome units near the ski area has raised the bar in the resort rental market, Downs said. Steamboat could begin to see less desirable housing units, once reserved for the nightly rental market converted to long-term rentals, as income from nightly rentals goes down.

To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210 or e-mail

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