An in-depth look at Summit County’s regional housing crisis
In this 13-part series from 2016, we explore the subject of housing from every angle, featuring stories on seasonal workers, government and nonprofit solutions, homelessness, the impact of short-term rentals, the prevalence of second-home owners and deed-restricted housing.
Study confirms severity of Summit County housing crisis
Increasingly, it’s becoming more and more difficult for the county’s workforce to find affordable, long-term housing. The average price of condos and apartments in multifamily settings has risen 13% since 2012, ballooning from about $350,000 to about $400,000 in 2015. The average price for single-family homes has escalated comparably, by nearly $100,000 to more than $850,000 each. That equates to an annual sales growth of about 4%.
The rental market is at least as challenging. Rental vacancies communitywide are consistently under a half-percent and median monthly prices have soared to nearly $1,900.
Summit County’s most vital workers don’t live here
Kathy Reeder has a second home in Summit County, but it’s not a palatial condo or Breckenridge bungalow. It’s a room at the Ramada Inn in Frisco, where she stays four nights a week while working as a labor and delivery nurse at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center.
Reeder is one of the more than 12,000 people that work in Summit County but don’t live here, compared with the fewer than 6,000 that do both.
This lopsided share of people commuting into Summit is a symptom of the current housing crisis, which has seen home and rental prices climb beyond the reach of many local workers.
Seasonal workers arrive and housing disappears
Trevor Greene, a San Diego native, landed a job with Breckenridge Ski Resort in mid-August to groom runs overnight behind the wheel of a snowcat. He had to hold back his excitement through the phone.
After accepting the new gig, and preparing to make his way to the Rockies to ideally make strides in the ski industry, Greene’s discussion over the phone quickly turned to the issue of housing. The hiring manager told Greene that resort-furnished employee options were almost certainly gone.
This same difficult exchange happens on repeat throughout the region as resorts attempt to fill crucial seasonal vacancies annually.
Summit County employers facing a shrinking workforce
For many business owners in Summit County, the housing crisis causes more than just a problem for their employees — they say it’s damaging to the community as a whole.
The lack of affordable housing has caused the cost of doing business to rise. Local restaurant owner Bobby Kato said that with non-local applicants, he won’t even begin talking to them unless they have found housing in the area, shrinking the potential pool of people he can hire from.
The food services and accommodation industry accounts for 27.2% of the workforce in Summit County. The next two largest employers are retail and government, which represent 12.3% and 10.8% of the pie, respectively.
Summit workers and families on brink of homelessness
As evening approaches, Robert searches for an unrented — and unlocked — storage unit somewhere in the county. When he finds a suitable one, he slides the metal door open and moves in for the night,.
It’s cold and getting colder, but as long Robert has a door that keeps out the rain and wind, he stays warm enough.
Robert got kicked out of the Silverthorne condo he rented with a co-worker about a month ago. They fell short on rent. When they did, their landlord sent them packing — and so did their employer.
Government’s hand remains pronounced in housing efforts
Summit County Commissioner Thomas Davidson’s mission to provide housing for the local workforce began more than three decades ago, he just didn’t know it then.
The idea was only just starting to formulate in the young Kansan’s mind when he arrived to the region in the 1980s for a lone winter of swinging lift chairs at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area.
It’s a story not unlike countless others who still journey to the region today with ideas of blazing a trail for themselves in the Colorado Rockies.
That dream is getting harder to realize by the season. Real estate costs continue to put long-term housing arrangements out of reach for many members of the area’s workforce.
One Summit County landlord takes leap of faith
Eric Ojala, a young pastor, has become somewhat of a local social media celebrity for charging under market value on the handful of rental units he owns in the county. In August, he posted a manifesto of sorts for compassionate landlords on the popular Facebook page One Man’s Junk Summit County. In it, he lists five commitments he is making to prospective renters in the county, among them not allowing profit to be his only concern and promising to never convert his units to short-term rentals.
Ojala wrote the post in response to what he sees as a growing sense of desperation among prospective tenants since he bought his first rental property in 2011, when prices were still recovering from the disastrous crash of 2009.
Summit County remains majority second-home owners
Sharon Cole and her husband Tom bought their condominium in the Dillon Valley East complex as an investment property. They soon got set up with a new Summit County pilot program that finds local workers to rent the condo long term, and it wasn’t but two days after closing on the two-bed, two-bath condo that the new family moved in.
The purchase is just one example of umpteen second-home owners in Summit County. According to the American Community Survey, there were more than 30,000 total housing units in Summit as of 2014. Nearly 66% of those residential properties were defined as second homes.
Deed-restricted housing helps locals become homeowners
In October 2014, Teresa Zube bought her first home. In Summit County, where the average price of a single-family home is more than $500,000, home ownership is a particularly noteworthy achievement.
Still, Zube, a housekeeper and single mom of two children, had to fight to buy a deed-restricted home in the Valley Brook neighborhood.
Deed-restricted housing allows people to purchase homes at a price that isn’t determined by the fluctuations of the free market. Along with a discounted price point comes a set of rules specifying how the property can be used and for how much it can be resold. For many working families in Summit County, deed-restricted housing has become the only option to carve out a long-term niche in the community.
Nonprofits pitch in to help families find a home
It’s a story that’s been told a hundred times here: rent goes up, tenants pack up and leave, sometimes for another county or even state. These stories illustrate the sobering fact that a full 59% of households in Summit live below the area median income.
With the market pricing people out, the county and local governments have stepped up to find solutions and alleviate the host of problems that stem from a tight housing market.
With help from The Summit Foundation and Summit Combined Housing Authority, the Family Intercultural Resource Center has trained its sights on a new target: getting units off of the short-term rental market and available again as long-term housing options.
Developer draws up blueprint for workforce communities
David O’Neil, CEO and founder of Brynn Grey Partners, has made deed-restricted workforce housing a central focus of his business, but the company isn’t just building homes. The mission is creating living, breathing and affordable neighborhoods. Among the projects O’Neil’s company has brought into existence are the award-winning Wellington Neighborhood in Breckenridge and Peak One Neighborhood in Frisco.
Building workforce housing became a passion project for O’Neil, who was first drawn to Summit County after working on a low-income development in Boulder called the Poplar Project. After doing research on which area in the state needed the most help with workforce housing, O’Neil set his sights on Breckenridge.
Renters vulnerable in disputes with landlords
On Aug. 18, Jim McGuire and his girlfriend, Mary Rose Hills, moved into a room in a Dillon Valley house that they verbally agreed to pay $700 a month for.
As the weather started to get colder, McGuire and Hills say their landlord has not turned on the heat despite repeated verbal requests and two written requests, and temperatures inside the house are now as low as 42 degrees at night.
McGuire and Hills’ ordeal is an extreme example of how Summit County’s housing crisis, which has seen rents rising faster than local incomes, can limit people’s options or make them reluctant to assert their rights as tenants.
What’s more, when tenants have disputes with their landlords — whether it be over substandard living conditions, illegal entry or withholding of a security deposit, their only real recourse is litigation.
Summit County takes small steps forward to address housing crisis
Justin and Abbi Tietjen moved out to Summit County from the East Coast eight years ago with little more than the hope of making a life together in the Colorado Rockies. They both landed jobs with Copper Mountain Resort, but finding a long-term place to live soon became a test of endurance and will.
The Great Recession of the late-2000s had slowed new housing development to a crawl. But the Copper Point Townhomes, a 15-unit, deed-restricted development right on the resort, was announced this spring. Not long after, with first dibs going to Copper employees, the Tietjens jumped in feet first.
However, the Tietjen’s story, a Summit housing tale with a happy ending, isn’t as common as many would like. Members of Summit’s workforce are increasingly unable to wait out the challenges of finding permanent residences.