Bill threatens affordable housing

On Monday, the state Senate will vote on a bill that would erase the critical affordable-housing measures Steamboat Springs and Routt County have spent years developing.

We join local governments across the state in urging the Senate to kill this measure.

The bill was introduced specifically to deal with development issues in Denver. However, its far-ranging consequences would affect the ability of resort towns such as Steamboat to ensure the year-round, working-class residents who make up the core of the community can afford to live in the place they work.

The bill prohibits counties and municipalities from instituting rent controls or deed restrictions that would require property owners to ask for less than market value when they decide to sell. If passed, it would render useless the provisions in the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan calling for one-third of the area's future subdivision development to be dedicated to affordable housing. The city and county worked cooperatively to develop those provisions in an effort to ensure teachers, police officers, office workers, nurses and other working families would still be able to live and own homes here despite ever-escalating real estate costs.

Facing extreme opposition from counties and municipalities across the state, the bill was recently amended to allow local government to work with developers to impose deed restrictions on private residential development, if and only if the developers do so voluntarily.

The new provision for voluntary deed restrictions was added to quiet some of the opposition, but the wording of the amendment is vague enough that local officials can't tell how it would affect local measures like Steamboat's affordable-housing matrix. The matrix serves as a guide for varying levels of incentives that can be offered to developers to encourage them to voluntarily include affordable housing in their subdivision plans. Whether such incentives would still be allowed remains to be seen. Additionally, incentives may not make sense any longer if local government's ability to impose long-term deed restrictions is taken away. Without deed restrictions, the portion of a developer's homes built to be "affordable" could be immediately resold at market value, eliminating the area's stock of privately owned affordable housing.

The voluntary provision simply is not protection enough from the community-altering consequences this bill could have. Neither is the fact that the bill would allow housing authorities and organizations such as the Regional Affordable Living Foundation to continue to institute deed restrictions on projects in which they are involved. Yes, that's better than nothing, but it is simply not enough to allow only one door to remain open to a future in which most of Steamboat's residents -- not just the wealthy and second-home owners -- can afford to live in their own community.

The dynamics of a resort town are very different from the dynamics of a major metropolitan area such as Denver. For us to preserve our community in the face of a high-dollar, high-demand real estate market, we need access to creative minds and every means possible that those minds can conceive to help us preserve affordable housing for the future. Otherwise, the hardworking people who make our community what it is will continue to be forced to either live elsewhere or move on when it is time to start a family or buy a home.

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