Steamboat School Board considering district-owned land for teacher housing

The Steamboat Springs School Board is considering a property the district owns near Whistler Park for teacher housing.
Routt County Assessor’s Office/Screenshot

The Steamboat Springs School Board is considering district property near Whistler Park, once considered for a new school, as a potential location to develop teacher housing.

On Monday, Aug. 15, Yampa Valley Housing Authority Executive Director Jason Peasley told the school board he wanted to partner with the district on a project, although it would likely take three to four years before anyone could. move in.

“From the time we all sit down and say, ‘Yeah, that’s what we’re doing,’ it’s probably three to four years before someone lives in those homes,” Peasley said. “It’s not a quick fix, although it’s the quickest fix.”

School board members often spoke of using district-owned land to build staff housing, sometimes mentioning the 9.2-acre parcel purchased in 1980 with a future school in mind.

But those discussions never turned to specifics about what district housing for teachers might look like or the council’s intent for long-term Whistler ownership.

“I think as soon as possible, we should be talking about people’s ideas of how we could make a difference as soon as possible,” said board chair Katy Lee, noting that the time frame could be three to four years at the earliest.

Lee said the ideas could include transitional housing for teachers or houses available for purchase by teachers or other school staff, but the board hasn’t discussed any of those ideas in depth. .

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Peasley said the first step toward a development partnership would be for the school board to decide what the district hopes to get out of a development — a discussion Lee said she wants to put on the agenda as soon as staff will be able to gather the appropriate background information. .

“It’s not a simple conversation,” Peasley said. “Anytime you’re ready to decide what you want to do with this plot or other plots you own, if the answer is housing, let us know and we’ll be happy to work with you on it. “

Teachers are often mentioned alongside law enforcement officers and nurses when citing middle-class professions struggling to gain a foothold in Steamboat’s housing market.

A study published on Tuesday August 16from the nonpartisan Keystone Policy Center, showed that only about 20% of homes in Colorado are priced low enough to be considered affordable for teachers earning the average salary in their district.

In the Steamboat Springs School District — which is one of 18 districts in the state that pays teachers above the Colorado average — it was even lower, with just 11% of homes deemed accessible to area teachers.

The study found that in 2015, there were more than 3,200 homes in the district that could be considered affordable for teachers, meaning costs associated with housing such as a mortgage and property taxes would rise. 30% or less of their income.

By 2021, 60% of these units were no longer deemed affordable, leaving 1,287 units within reach. This decline is due to teachers earning $8,000 more per year on average in 2021 than they did six years earlier.

“There are few areas in the state where higher wages are associated with greater access to affordable homeownership,” the study said. “That’s not to say that higher wages aren’t a tool to address affordability, but rather that wages haven’t kept pace with house prices in many districts.”

According to the study, districts leveraging their assets such as land are a solution to increasing the stock of affordable housing for teachers.

The Whistler parcel is adjacent to land owned by Steamboat Springs, including Whistler Park. The neighborhood has an agreement with the city to allow recreational uses on the land, and it is currently used as a dog park and field space. This agreement includes a termination clause, according to the district’s financial director, Stephanie Juneau.

The property was one of two sites where the district considered building another school in 2019, but the board ultimately decided the land it owned near Steamboat II was a better option. Sleeping Giant School opened west of Steamboat last fall.

At the time, many neighbors near Whistler opposed the construction of a new school due to concerns about the traffic it would cause, the impact it would have on wildlife, and what would happen with it. the city-owned park. Peasley said it would be important to involve neighbors when evaluating housing near Whistler.

“I think we need to figure that out,” said school board member Lara Craig. “When do we have these discussions, what is our priority? What do we have to do?”