Census data shows how bad Colorado high country housing has gotten

The numbers reflect what many high country residents already suspected: a lot of second-home owners, vacation rentals and investment buyers

Thy Vo and Taylor Washington
Colorado Sun

DENVER — By most accounts, the housing market in Colorado mountain communities has never been tighter. People have flocked to mountain towns during coronavirus, even as many resorts shut down. Seasonal workers are being forced to move to different communities because they can’t afford rent, causing labor shortages for local businesses.

And yet, several high country communities are reporting more than half of their homes are vacant, 2020 U.S. Census data shows, as high as 71% in Hinsdale County, where Lake City is a hot destination for hikers and ATV enthusiasts, and 58.7% in Summit County, a popular seasonal destination for skiers.

But the housing units aren’t necessarily empty. Rather, those high numbers are “almost entirely” due to a large number of part-time residents with second homes, vacation rentals and investment buyers, said Elizabeth Garner, state demographer and economist for the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. In other words, the high vacancy rates confirm there is a big housing problem in Colorado tourist towns.

It’s hard to know what a healthy vacancy rate looks like in places like Summit County, where the market is, and has long been, “way out of whack,” said Rachel Tuyn, a resident of Summit County and director of the economic development district for the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments.

In Summit County, “our population is 31,000, but it can surge to over 100,000 on Christmas week,” Tuyn said. It’s “an absolute nightmare” for most workers and full-time residents to find a place to live when they’re competing in a market inflated by vacationers and wealthy people who can afford to buy multimillion-dollar homes, she said.

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