Housing for professionals hard to find
SUMMIT COUNTY – Red, White and Blue Fire Chief Gary Green will implement a new schedule in June that he hopes will reduce commute times for the many firefighters who work in Breckenridge but live in Denver or Park County.The new schedule will allow firefighters to work longer but fewer shifts. It is an attempt by Green to help retain employees at the firehouse, where one in three employees lives outside the district.”We’ve condensed the schedule so they can work 48 hours, then have four days off to limit the commute time,” Green said.About 13 percent of Summit County workers commute from outside the county. The figure is expected to increase to 20 percent by 2010, according to a 2005 housing needs report released Wednesday by the Summit Housing Authority.While Green has not experienced high turnover at the district in the last few years, he said he felt compelled to address commute times. Many firefighters are purchasing homes in Denver, where real estate is cheaper, he said.
“I had to get flexible with the schedule to address it,” Green said. “Otherwise I would face significant turnover issues.”While Green can proactively boost retention by changing scheduling, other employers do not have that choice. Teachers, mid-level managers and government employees who reside in Summit County will continue to have a difficult time purchasing a home in the county where they work, said Bonnie Osborn, executive director of the Summit Housing Authority.As a result, employers will struggle to retain employees unless more affordable housing is made available, she said.”These are our professionals that keep the community alive and functioning,” Osborn said. “Jobs are growing faster than our ability to bring people in to do the jobs, and even if we did, where are we going to house them? We are building a 95,000-square-foot hospital. Where are these people going to live?”
Job growth will continue at about 5 percent, according to the report, but the types of jobs will change. The lower-paying retail, accommodation and food service positions will decline as a percentage of all jobs in the county, with an increase in higher paying jobs such as construction and finance, insurance, real estate and emergency services. If the trend continues, a shift in industries could result in higher average incomes in the county among locals, increasing their threshold of home ownership affordability, the report said.The report estimates that nearly 4,000 additional units would be needed to meet housing demand in 2010. About 64 percent of the units would need to be priced in the $112,000 to $268,000 range to be affordable for locals.The Summit Housing Authority commissioned the report as a first step to figure out which direction the organization will head to help future housing needs.Osborn said the report clearly indicates that more housing for professionals is needed.
“We have a good number of people who want to buy and there are no units available,” she said.Osborn, who accepted her position with the housing authority in June, is looking at several ways to provide home ownership opportunities for locals. New housing developments and free-market purchases are a few ideas, but she said it is too early to say what the organization might decide.With a $325,000 annual budget, Osborn will have to find ways to fund such programs before making a dent in the housing needs. She said the organization is working on a funding strategy.
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