Housing woes in the Yampa Valley are not new. Some people were talking about it in the 1970s
Editor's Note: This story is part a reporting series called "Brown Ranch: Explained." New stories in this series will be published on Fridays. To get the latest, subscribe to The Morning Bugle Newsletter.
In less than two months, Steamboat Springs voters will make a decision that will impact the community for decades no matter the outcome.
The vote on whether to annex 400 acres of the Brown Ranch into the city of Steamboat Springs has been in the making since August 2021, when the Yampa Valley Housing Authority purchased the property with an anonymous donation.
But the conversation about a lack of affordable housing in Steamboat dates back further. Much further.
“What of the family whose income depends on one or at most two wage earners?” Steamboat Pilot staffer Dee Richards wrote in 1972, when the average cost of a single-family home in town could still be represented by five figures. “These family units, who could and would add much to our community both in permanency and stability, cannot afford to reside here.”
An article with the headline “Affordable Housing in Steamboat” written by the Pilot in 2000 references this quote, setting up the reader to believe it had been uttered the week prior, before revealing it was from decades earlier.
The article notes that the previous 30 years had seen roughly 30 reports and recommendations from various entities, numerous committees formed and several surveys taken — all aimed at addressing affordable housing. It also says little had been accomplished over those 30 years.
At the time, the Regional Affordable Living Foundation — a private nonprofit that started in 1997 to address affordable housing struggles and predecessor of the Housing Authority— was pushing for an excise tax on new construction to fund affordable housing. Then Executive Director of RALF Rob Dick told the paper in 2000 that Steamboat needed somewhere between 700 and 1,000 units of affordable housing.
The excise tax would go on to flop with voters that November after two different campaign committees formed to oppose it.
Still, government documents produced in the years that followed — master plans, area plans, housing studies — continued to emphasize affordable housing.
The 2003 Routt County Master Plan includes a chapter on housing specifically, noting that despite decades of talk, “limited progress has been made as the problem increasingly becomes worse.”
The 2004 Steamboat Springs Area Plan says based on housing demand studies at the time, “The Steamboat Springs area appears to be at an affordable housing crossroads.”
A 2005 newspaper article reported more than 300 people applied for one of 30 units available at Fox Creek Village, an anecdote that the Steamboat Pilot Editorial Board at the time said underscores the local demand for affordable housing. Fox Creek Village includes deed-restricted properties managed by YVHA still today.
(Roughly 700 people applied for one of 75 units at YVHA’s latest development, Anglers 400.)
The 2006 update of the West Steamboat Springs Area Plan says an important goal of the plan “is to bring about affordable housing for the working people of Steamboat Springs.” That plan highlights one property in particular, the 538-acre property then known as the 540 Subdivision, now known as Brown Ranch. In total, the west area plan calls for between 1,100 and 2,600 units, with at least 20% of that being affordable.
More recently, a 2016 Community Housing Report conducted by the then Routt County Community Housing Steering Committee estimated that Routt County would need to add 101 to 137 low-income targeted units per year, every year to match projected demand by 2030.
That same report called for between 67 and 111 “entry-level” units per year, and 50 to 92 “move up” units per year as well. Those projections were based on growth rates that ranged from 1.5% to 2.5% in population growth.
“Housing supply is not keeping up with demand, leading to rapidly increasing home prices and rental rates,” the 2016 report reads. “An environment of prolonged home price and rental rate appreciation will price out many local wage earners from our communities leading to a loss of community character and economic competitiveness.”
Top Photo Caption: The view of Steamboat Springs from Emerald Mountain. (Dylan Anderson/The Yampa Valley Bugle)