Summit County: Affordable housing still key issue for economy
April 3, 2011
In a recently distributed survey, Gov. John Hickenlooper and his administration asked citizens to name the top hindrances to economic development in their area.
From Summit County respondents the answer was resounding: the lack of affordable housing.
It’s a problem that has been on the radars of local government officials for some time.
The cost of living in Summit County is high and not always within the reach of all members of the workforce, who are, nonetheless, essential to the local economy. In 2007, a county
-wide analysis indicated demand for nearly 4,500 affordable-housing units, a number that was expected to rise to more than 7,100 units by 2012.
Officials ultimately reduced that number to a more realistic goal of 2,500 units, but to date the county has less than 800 units.
But the market is ripe to continue adding to that number, experts say.
“I think now is a good time to build, but you have to do it smart,” executive director of the Summit Combined Housing Authority Jennifer Kermode said.
And many local governments are. The issue continues to be a top priority in Breckenridge, which recently oversaw the completion of the first phase of the Valley Brook workforce-housing neighborhood, and Frisco, where officials ranked attainable-housing projects, like the Peak 1 complex, among the town’s top-5 priorities.
The Breckenridge Town Council recently indicated an interest in shifting the focus and method of adding to the town’s workforce housing stockpile. Rather than building the housing developments themselves, council members discussed instead adding attainable-housing units through buy downs and subsidized rental properties.
“We would rather find ways to partner with (private) developers to facilitate it, rather than building it ourselves,” Councilwoman Jennifer McAtamney said. “We don’t want to compete against the private sector … Our commitments are not changing, our strategies are.”
And adding affordable housing isn’t just a numbers game. It’s a careful system of supplying the market’s changing demands. Two years ago, McAtamney said, when the Valley Brook project was just getting under way, there was a need for housing that would be affordable for lower- income families, but buy downs didn’t make sense. Today, they do.
Through buy downs, local governments buy a property and, backed by funds from a 2006 voter-approved tax, bring the price down and deed restrict it before reselling it as workforce housing. The county and towns can also subsidize the cost of rental- housing units to make them more affordable for local employees.
Despite the complicated market considerations and the many more units that are needed, Summit County is a state leader when it comes to affordable housing.
“We’re taking lessons learned from places like Aspen and Eagle County… the other resort areas …. So through collaborating with them, I think we’re really starting to do things right here to make our housing programs sustainable and effective,” Kermode said.