First Tracks seeks input
Developers want OK for companies to own, rent affordable housing
By Blythe Terrell (Contact) Reporter Steambot Pilot
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Developers of First Tracks, the affordable housing component in Wildhorse Meadows, are asking city officials to change the affordable housing rules to allow business owners to buy the units and rent them to their employees. Photo by Matt Stensland
Steamboat Springs — First Tracks developers are puzzling about how to get buyers into lower-cost units, and they brought in business owners Thursday to talk about it.
The developer, Resort Ventures West, plans to ask the city to change its inclusionary zoning and linkage ordinance to allow employers to buy affordable units and rent them to workers, a practice not allowed under current ordinances.
About 14 of the first phase First Tracks at Wildhorse Meadows units are under or nearly under contract, and 33 remain on the market. All of the units targeted at people who make 80 percent of area median income have been sold, development manager Mariana Ishida told business owners at the lunch meeting.
Nancy Engelken, community housing coordinator for the city of Steamboat Springs, joined the group to discuss how to get people into affordable homes. It’s challenging, the employers agreed.
“We have a lot of young people who would like to come work for us, but they can’t afford the housing,” said Kim Johnson, an owner of Wildhorse Salon. “To get them here, it’s a nightmare. I had several people from Denver and Wyoming who were interested, but they backed out because they couldn’t find housing.”
The city’s housing requirements focus on ownership, though the ordinance also covers rentals. The restrictions are based on area median income. Steamboat requires high-density residential developments to build or put money toward housing for people with lower incomes. The homeowners must earn 80 percent of their income in Routt County, Engelken said.
The city is focused on those who make 80 to 120 percent of the AMI: $42,400 to $63,600 for a single-person household.
Resort Ventures wants to eliminate the income requirements and home appreciation caps for housing units that employers buy and rent to workers.
“If you work in the county, you should be able to buy one of these and sell it or rent it to someone who works in the county,” Ishida said.
At the lunch, Resort Ventures aimed to get feedback about businesses’ housing needs. The company plans to present its amended ordinance to the Planning Commission next month. The City Council is scheduled to take up the issue in December. Engelken said she had not written a staff recommendation on the proposal.
Part of the issue, business folks said, is that different businesses have different housing needs. Patrick Delaney, of Steamboat Resorts, said his employees usually seek seasonal rental housing. Affordability is crucial, he said.
“A lot of our employees who’ve worked with us for years, because it’s seasonal they don’t make $50,000, $60,000, $70,000 a year,” Delaney said. “They’re more in the $35,000 or $40,000 range.”
Prices are high for all types of residences, Engelken said.
“More and more, the market here, whether it be rental housing or ownership housing, the market is closed,” she said.
Though they expressed concern about the issue, the business owners didn’t provide clear direction for Engelken or Ishida.
Delaney said he thought employees needed more education on affordable housing. He said Steamboat Resorts was not eager to buy housing.
“All things being equal, if we have to — and only if we have to — we probably are interested in buying some rental units, and I think on a case-by-case basis, we are interested in helping some of our long-term employees obtain housing,” Delaney said.
Engelken encouraged business owners to contact her through the city at 879-2060 if they would like her to provide information about housing options and rules.
“I want this to be a partnership with all of you to figure out how to make this work, because in inserting this provision to allow the employer-based purchase of a unit, it’s important for you to say, ‘This is what we need,’” Engelken told the group.
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