The final report of the Routt County Community Housing Steering Committee includes the ambitious goal of creating 700 diverse new housing units, plus 250 additional beds for seasonal workers in the city and county by 2020.
Implicit in that call to action is that governments, as well as the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, will bring new revenues to the cause.
Reaching that goal also requires that the city streamline its permitting process to take away some of the developers’ risk. After all, time is money.
During a city council Tuesday night, which also included the Routt County Board of Commissioners, Housing Steering Committee chairman Dan Pirrallo told an audience of about 60 people that the county’s population is projected to grow from about 23,000 to 35,000 by 2030. He said in order to meet the housing demands that come with growth, the community needs to first close the existing gap between supply and demand, then continue to create new housing stock at a steadier pace.
“There needs to be a partnership, and there needs to be business involvement,” Pirrallo said. “We need to build a culture and enviroment to allow the free market in private and public partnership with (the Housing Authority) to create opportunities to fill the housing supply gap in a sustainable way.”
Can Steamboat Springs, together with the towns of Hayden, Oak Creek and Yampa and unincorporated Routt County, deliver on the promise of almost 700 new housing units in the span of four years?
Yampa Valley Housing Authority Executive Director Jason Peasley said it’s doable, but he also acknowledged the goal of building 700 new dwelling units and 250 beds for seasonal units is “aspirational.” That’s the number he said that will return equilibrium to supply and demand, resulting in more stable pricing.
“There definitely is a way for that to happen,” Peasley said Thursday. “But it’s certainly not business as we know it today. If you want to meet these targets, we need to do things differently.”
Implicit in the Housing Steering Committee report is that “doing things differently” includes local governments developing new sources of funding for infrastructure improvements required by new housing developments — transit and utilities among them. And the Yampa Valley Housing Authority will also be counted on attract more dollars and form new partnerships with the private sector to launch more housing projects.
City Council President Walter Magill observed this week that it is plain to him that the report calls on the city to ask the voters to approve a new tax to meet infrastructure needs of new housing developments.
“The city budget is derived from sales tax, and there’s not much left over from this year’s budget,” Magill said. “So, it will be an additional tax burden. Does the community want the city to cut a lot of services to get into housing?” Or does it want, “a tax increase?”
As of Jan. 1, the city will collect 4.5 percent sales tax, and it additionally collects 2.9 percent on behalf of the state of Colorado and another 1 percent for Routt County, for a total of 8.4 percent.
The steering committee also called for streamlining of the city planning and permitting process by trimming the time it takes to process and grant permits by 25 percent by December 2017.
The committee has recommended the city find ways to reduce the number of public hearings developers must hurdle by empowering the city planning staff to grant more permits administratively and at the Planning Commission level.
City Councilwoman Kathi Meyer said this week that the process is already underway. She said council has asked Planning Director Tyler Gibbs to revisit the development code through an affordable housing lens and rethink regulations like lot line setbacks and landscaping, which can add time and cost to the process for housing developers.
Council is expecting a draft code by July and a final version by the end of the year.
The planning department has already implemented a new online chart that allows city officials to track every development permit and see the amount of time needed to complete every step along the way, Meyer added.
“We know this can be done by empowering staff and Planning Commission,” where appropriate, she said.