A house in Steamboat Springs is expensive. A single-family home can be anywhere from $600,000 to over $1 million — and for most low- and middle-income residents, that’s just not in the budget.
Bob and Leslie Gumbrecht moved to Steamboat Springs nearly 15 years ago. But because of high home prices, they now live about 30 minutes down the road in Hayden.
“It just feels hard to not be able to afford to live in the community where you work,” Leslie said. “I mean, that’s where our kids were going to school.”
Their youngest, 8-year-old Max, still goes to school in Steamboat. Their other son, 11-year-old Owen, just started middle school in Hayden. Bob and Leslie are both professors at Colorado Mountain College.
When they first moved to Steamboat, they rented, but that just wasn’t going to work for their growing family.
“The trade-off for living downtown was living in a house that was built in the 1930s,” Bob said. “Not particularly well kept up, cracked foundation, giant flooded basement every spring when the snow melted, asbestos tiles, mold everywhere in the basement.”
After Owen was born, the Gumbrechts decided they couldn’t stay in those conditions. They wanted to buy a house at that time, but also couldn’t find anything within their price range — until a friend had a mobile home for sale.
“I mean, it was cute,” Leslie said. “And in town, and something that we could actually make happen.”
Which they did for eight years, until the desire for more stability and a better investment put them back on the home buying market. That’s when they decided to purchase their house in Hayden.
‘Demand is just off the charts’
Jason Peasley is the executive director of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority. He doesn’t know the Gumbrechts personally, but he says their story is one he hears often. It’s why his organization is working to build homes specifically for working families who live year-round in Steamboat Springs — but they can’t build fast enough.
“Our newest project that we built three years ago has a waitlist of 240 households,” Peasley said over the sound of nail guns and bulldozers at the Housing Authority’s most recent build. Wearing a hard hat and yellow vest, he explained this project will add 72 units right next to downtown, and they’re already planning another project with 90 units.
“We know that the demand is just off the charts,” Peasley said.
However, all of the units they’re building are rentals, which Peasley acknowledges hurts middle-income families like the Gumbrechts who want to buy.
He says the Housing Authority projects aren’t the perfect solution, but it’s something tangible that provides an affordable choice for renting in Steamboat Springs.
“Our goal is not to end up in a scenario where there’s no choice,” Peasley said. “Where our local workforce here in Steamboat has no options to live in Steamboat. That would be detrimental to just our brand as a community — the real town feel that makes Steamboat special.”
However, the Gumbrechts did leave the community, and the mobile home they owned, to buy a home in Hayden. That was over two years ago.
“Lot rent kept going up and house prices kept going up,” said Leslie. “We were just like, ‘if we want to try and buy something now that will give us some equity, we either need to do it now, or just just realize that this is where we’re going to be as long as we’re in Steamboat.’”
Sipping on an IPA at the local brewery in Hayden, town manager Matthew Mendisco said the Gumbrechts’ story is the housing story of the Yampa Valley.
“Why would I even consider buying a house that’s brand new construction, three bedroom, two bath, starting at maybe $600,000 to $850,000,” he said, “when I can come to Hayden and buy that right now, probably on the market for about $340,000?”
Some say that Hayden is a bedroom community to Steamboat Springs, and Mendisco doesn’t mind that characterization. He says Hayden provides another housing option for families like the Gumbrechts.
But he is worried that the popularity of the area will drive up home prices in his town, too. He says the city council does what they can for the community of 2,000 people to keep prices reasonable and to get in front of the growing pains that come with increased development. Among the town’s current projects is a brand new school with a performing arts space.
And those are just some of the things that attracted Bob and Leslie Gumbrecht to Hayden.
Bob said he thinks their four-bedroom, 2.5-bath home in Hayden would have been three times the price in Steamboat Springs.
Sitting around a blonde-colored, wooden table in the dining room, with Dave the cat lounging on the counter behind them, Bob and Leslie said they’re still settling in to their new home. Most of their friends still live in Steamboat. Same with the kids.
“We’re not quite sure how we fit in it,” Bob said. “Not yet anyway.”