The challenge of finding affordable housing for workers in mountain towns is nothing new, but pandemic trends have created a perfect storm for what has become a true housing crisis in Steamboat. Increased demand and limited supply have driven real estate prices to astronomical heights, making it even more difficult for our local workforce to afford housing.
“Since the pandemic hit in 2020, the housing crisis has affected all income levels, not just low income,” says Sheila Henderson, Community Outreach Coordinator, Yampa Valley Housing Authority. “Even people in higher income brackets still cannot afford to move here, and as a result, we’re seeing a serious labor shortage and local businesses are really struggling. Basically, if you want to buy a single family home in Steamboat, you need a million dollars or more.”
Even as banks, retail stores, restaurants, non-profit organizations, and medical offices have been forced to reduce their hours, there is hope. In August, a group of anonymous donors stepped up and shelled out $24 million to purchase the Brown Ranch, a 536-acre parcel of land west of town and donated it back to YVHA. “This group bought the land because they didn’t like how Steamboat was changing, and they wanted to ensure housing for locals. In fact, that was their only requirement; that the land be developed for locals.” The land will provide enough space for around 2,000 affordable housing units and commercial space for essential services like a grocery store as well as open spaces for parks, playgrounds, and other gathering places.
In addition to being tasked with the development of the Brown Ranch, YVHA is a multi-jurisdictional entity that was started by the city and county and is “owned by the community,” Henderson says. The organization currently manages seven affordable housing properties and a variety of programs, including down payment assistance to help provide affordable housing for low-and-moderate-income residents employed in Routt County.
That need is growing and changing, which is why YVHA has come up with a comprehensive planning process for Brown Ranch. “This is a development for locals, by locals,” Henderson says. At 2.5 people per unit, the development could ultimately provide housing for 5,000 people—that’s significant when you consider the population of Steamboat according to the 2020 census was just over 13,000. This massive effort, both in terms of scale and importance, will require months of detailed planning. “It’s a huge process to develop something this big. It’s going to take a year at least,” Henderson says.
Since the sale of the property closed in August 2021, YVHA hit the ground running, starting with the assembly of an “intentionally diverse” steering committee of 20 community members (selected from out of over 90 applicants) who range in age from 13 to 70. “The steering committee will create the strategic pillars of success with five focus teams, including infrastructure, demand, urban design, project economics, and long-term stewardship and sustainability,” says Henderson, who will oversee the committee. Private consultant firms will then be selected from around the state to take a deeper dive into each focus area.
“We want to make sure we represent every group in the community and get their input; that’s our biggest focus,” Henderson says. In addition to the steering committee, YVHA will hold a series of community meetings for anyone who wants to attend. The requirements for who can qualify for housing at Brown Ranch will ensure there are “no second homeowners, no Airbnbs or short-term rentals.” YVHA will hire in-house realtors as salaried employees to oversee sales. The goal is to hit “every price point so there is mobility in both directions, both for people who need to grow and to downsize.”
Henderson says it will take about 12-18 months to begin the first phase of development, and 3-4 years before homes are completed, but that it will likely take years, if not decades, to finish the build-out. “Everyone is looking at this like a magic bullet, and while it will help to save our community’s character and culture, this is a very long-term plan,” Henderson says.
The goal is also to plan for the long term. “We don’t want to just do a great job, we want to do a fabulous job, and really think outside the box,” Henderson says. “This isn’t just about a development, but building a thriving, healthy community that is sustainable and self-sufficient.” //yvha.org