Steamboat Springs is a ski town on the Yampa River where ranchers, ski enthusiasts and millionaires often mingle at the same bar. Locals say they cherish this diversity. But even before the pandemic hit, housing was getting more expensive, and Yampa Valley Housing Authority Director Jason Peasley said things were changing.

“We had people living in tents on Buff Pass, multiple families living in units, really a lot of crowded situations,” Peasley said.

The Housing Authority is preparing to open a new 90-unit complex this year which Peasley says will house firefighters, teachers and other middle-income workers.

“There is going to be a lot of interest. The rental process has been very intense with many people interested in living here given the housing shortage,” Peasley said.

But it took more than four years to get there. And Peasley says this new apartment complex won’t solve the city’s housing crisis. A 2016 study estimated that Steamboat needed at least 1,000 more units. And that was before many condos became short-term rentals.

“Increased demand and reduced supply due to units returning to other uses (like short-term rentals) have I think put us even further behind,” he said. declared. “And so, you know, we’re trying to figure out how we can build the next 90-unit project.”

State lawmakers say this month they are ready to help. They propose several measures to spend about $400 million in federal coronavirus relief funds on affordable housing initiatives. One measure invests in companies making modular and tiny homes. Another gives cities tens of millions to build more developments like Steamboat.

“Despite everything we’re doing right now, we need to do more,” Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue said this month at a news conference about the new legislation.

Pogue says many coloradans are running out of time.

“Just the other day the mother of one of my daughter’s best friends called – she’s a teacher, her husband is a property manager – and she said, ‘We’re done, we can’t do this anymore. We are moving to Fort Collins. And for me, it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. »

Behind these difficult stories lie difficult facts. Home prices have nearly doubled in the state over the past decade. Rental rates in mountain towns jumped 20-40% last year. And the state says it needs to build 250,000 more units to meet current demand. Gov. Jared Polis says the bills lawmakers pass will help cities get there.

“It will help create a zoning landscape, pre-engineered technology that will help create hundreds of thousands more units,” he predicted this month.

Many cities aren’t waiting for state lawmakers to act. Voters in the mountain towns of Frisco to Leadville passed new taxes in November on short-term rentals to generate money for long-term housing. Cities have also successfully lobbied the legislature to let them spend the lodging tax money they collect from tourists on housing and child care.

Back in Steamboat, the Housing Authority is considering an even bigger project on a ranch on the west side of town. And lawmakers say new money set to flow later this year could help the city install water pipes and other basic infrastructure faster. Every project is important, says Peasley, no matter how long it takes.

“I have, you know, children who were born here and they’re young and I want them to have the opportunity to live here if they want to,” he said. “Who knows if they will. But if I want that to be an option for them in the future, and I don’t want this community to become a homogeneity of people who have so much money they can live where they want.

Five affordable housing bills are still on track to reach the governor’s desk as of this month. But the money won’t start flowing until later this year, and it could take years for the projects to take shape.

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