Summit Combined Housing Authority continues to grow affordable housing efforts
Affordable housing is generally an individual challenge, but at least one person is championing the cause countywide.
Jennifer Kermode, executive director of the Summit Combined Housing Authority, said the future for Summit County is continued population growth.
“We are past the point of, ‘Do we want to be rural or are we going to escalate?’” she said.
A native of Golden, she spent nearly three decades as a mortgage broker, principally in Summit, but also for a decade in Orange County, California.
She has fond memories of recreating in the area as a youth.
“Summit was our playground when I was growing up,” she said. “Keystone had just opened up when I was in high school.”
In 2003, she relocated to Summit from Lakewood. She said numerous motor-home trips seeking a dose of the Rockies were the impetus for moving.
Within a year Kermode became involved with the community and joined Leadership Summit, Our Future Summit and the Breckenridge Rotary Mountain Club.
In 2006, she served as campaign treasurer for the 5A Tax Initiative. Due to TABOR requirements, voters approval was needed to pass a countywide sales tax and impact fee of 0.125 percent devoted to affordable housing causes.
“I became aware of the discrepancy between wages and housing costs,” she said.
As part of the 5A process, the Summit Combined Housing Authority was formed to represent the entire county.
“Each town has a seat on the board,” she said.
The SCHA gives each town the flexibility to tweak projects to suit its needs, Kermode explained.
In 2008, Summit County worked on identifying land parcels in unincorporated sections of the county that might be ideal for affordable housing. In the space of two months, 21 public meetings were held on the subject.
“The rooms were packed with people I went to church with saying, ‘I don’t want these people here,’” she said. “They thought it would look like the projects in Chicago and be filled with ski bums.”
Despite the initial hesitancy, she said the conversation had begun.
“I think that was the first time people started asking, ‘Where do these people live?” she said.
The timing was less than ideal, as an economic downturn was rocking the U.S.
“The first year or two of the recession, developers wanted nothing to do with affordable housing,” she said.
After analyzing the situation, she said the town of Breckenridge decided that a recession was the best time to build affordable housing.
In 2011, the Valley Brook neighborhood, consisting of 41 deed-restricted townhomes, was completed. The project focused on bringing economic stimulus to the area, with 97 percent local labor and contractors.
“Suddenly, it became a hot topic to be in the affordable housing world,” she joked.
After Peak One was developed in Frisco, Kermode said a trend was started.
“We’ve seen a variety of partnerships both public and private,” she explained.
During her time with the SCHA, the group has assisted over 2,000 people, and over 300 businesses have benefitted from services offered by the SCHA.
“We have just over 900 workforce housing units in the county that we monitor to make sure they are conforming to their intended use,” she said.
While acknowledging the SCHA has been able to grow affordable housing programs to reach more of the community, Kermode realizes the road ahead is fraught with challenges.
“I’m worried the disparities going to get worse,” she said. “I’m also concerned about the quality of life for the seasonal employees.”
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