Missed opportunities may be to blame

— The story of affordable housing in Steamboat, say some developers who have built what they believe constitute affordable housing projects in the area, is one not of a lack of opportunities but of missed opportunities.

Ken Gold, a realtor with Re/Max in Steamboat, believes he has offered the residents of Steamboat ample opportunity to own property in town. He teamed up with development company Wintergreen Homes in 1996 to build an affordable complex of "townhouse-style condominiums" called the Villas at the corner of Whistler Road and Walton Creek Road.

Wintergreen Homes had built similar projects in towns such as Basalt, Avon and Carbondale and had much success selling them, Gold said. Gold made sure to advertise locally and set up a booth offering information on the complex at an affordable housing expo. The condo units began at $129,900 for a two bedroom unit with one bathroom and a garage. Gold worked with banks to secure 97 percent financing with the seller paying the closing costs. Later, he was able to get the buyers 100 percent financing, if need be. He also emphasized the ability of buyers to co-sign for the properties.

He said he was prepared to give the little fish a chance in a market where they were increasingly getting pushed out of the water by bigger fish with bigger bank accounts. But when he dropped the hook into the water with what seemed to be an appealing worm, he got almost no bites.

"Wintergreen and I were both thinking we would have a flood of interest just like in the other communities and then we had virtually nothing," Gold said. "It was amazing to me that nobody was responding."

Only about 15 locals took advantage of the 108 opportunities to buy, Gold said. When they tired of waiting for the locals, the developers started selling to second-home owners, who now own a great majority of the units.

Debora Black, a resident of the condominium complex who spends much of the year in Steamboat, said she likes the location but couldn't see herself bringing up a family in the condo.

"Maybe it's because I grew up in a bigger home, but if I had a family here I would feel scrunched," she said. She added the homeowners at the complex are currently in a dispute with Wintergreen Homes over what they believe is an improper drainage system in the complex.

The Villas' units are not deemed suitable affordable housing by Regional Affordable Living Foundation Executive Director Rob Dick, because they also allow the owners to rent out their property on a nightly basis. Nightly rentals, Dick said, appeal primarily to a tourist clientele and are not appropriate for families with children. The Villas also makes its residents pay monthly association fees another problem, Dick said. Gold said the fees come out to about $150.

Gold said only about 20 of the condo units are offering nightly rentals. He added that because the complex offers a playground and open space, it is definitely suitable for families with children.

Jon Peddie, another local developer, said he had teamed up with Dick three years ago to build Sunburst Townhomes, a moderately priced project off Meadow Lane. Those units sold for about $125,000 to $165,000. About 75 percent of the 21 townhomes were sold to locals, he said.

Peddie is also building Willowbrook Homes, which is currently under construction and will sell for an average of $255,000 for a single-family home, he said.

"If you were here for 20 years and didn't buy property, you can't blame the market or developers," he said. "People don't tend to act. And when they don't tend to act, they see the market move ahead of them."

He also said RALF board member Karen Beauvais built an affordable housing complex called Mountain Vistas, which not many locals took advantage of.

Beauvais countered by explaining that in the 120 days during which those units were available only to locals, the most inexpensive units sold out in two weeks. Those two-bedroom units each sold for about $163,000. Out of 54 total units in the project, some of which cost up to $223,000, about 20 sold to locals over the 120 day period, she said. That project is under construction now.

"If developers offered those kinds of prices for those units again, they'd be all gone," Beauvais said.

Dick said the Sunburst homes were good examples of affordable housing but are not enough to meet the demand. He has a waiting list of 100 people looking to own a home in West End Village, his most recent project, which is scheduled to go before the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission Thursday.

He said the city needs to provide between 700 and 1,000 units of affordable housing just to address the current demand. Those are his estimates of the number of people in Steamboat using more than 30 percent of their income to pay for housing.

That's where he believes the excise tax comes in. The RALF board initially proposed an excise tax on new development, or Referendum 2A, to the City Council, which voted July 11 to begin drafting language for a ballot question on the matter. An excise tax would be levied on new construction on a per-square-foot basis with the revenues dedicated to purchasing land and leveraging loans for affordable housing projects.

The opposition, however, is strong and well-prepared.

Some people, such as local realtor and developer Herald Stout of Elk River Realty, complain that the tax would unethically place a burden on people who have not yet moved to Steamboat or those who have already spent years building up the equity to buy a house. Those people, some of whom have pinched every penny to afford to buy a dream house, would be subsidizing their neighbors, say the members of the "No on city Referendum #2A Committee."

Some believe the working people who have not been able to afford a home in Steamboat should start small and build equity instead of trying to buy a single-family home in one fell swoop.

But, counters RALF, with the price of land escalating 49 percent in the past year, according to the Steamboat Resort Chamber, the time to buy land for affordable housing may be running out.

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