Summit County, town officials discuss housing concerns with Colorado Department of Local Affairs
Officials make clear that rural mountain communities have different housing barriers than Front Range
In the past few months, community leaders and business owners have brainstormed and implemented various strategies to help mitigate the issues associated with Summit County’s lack of affordable workforce housing. From turning hotels into condo units, to adding more deed restricted units to the market and more, leaders are trying to rally the community and make clear to state and federal sources the need felt by Summit County’s workforce.
More recently, the advocating to the state took a deliberate approach. At the Summit Board of County Commissioners work session meeting Tuesday, June 29, county commissioners and staff, along with leaders from Silverthorne, Dillon, Breckenridge and Frisco, came together to discuss Summit County’s workforce housing needs with representatives from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs’ division of housing.
The discussion was initiated by County Commissioner Tamara Pogue, who said the meeting was to make clear the unique needs of rural mountain communities like Summit County.
“The dynamics of the housing conversation in the rural resort region, like Summit County for example, are really different than you find on the Front Range,” Pogue said in an interview a few days after the meeting. “For example, there are many developers on the Front Range that are interested in developing workforce housing. In Summit County and communities like Summit County, we have one or two and that’s it.
“These dynamics often impact what funding a community is or isn’t eligible for at the state level, and a lot of that housing funding runs through the (Department of Local Affairs). What we’re trying to do right now, as we prepare for the state’s conversation about how they’re going to spend the ($550 million) of (American Rescue Plan) funding on housing, is to really educate the state about those unique dynamics.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, Summit County Manager Scott Vargo kicked off the discussion by stating the county’s intentions.
“We want to be a part of the conversation as the programming is identified, as the guidelines are written up for how those dollars are going to be distributed, so that the resort region, and Summit County in particular, will meet the criteria for those programs as they are finally determined,” Vargo said. “We’ve had, in the past, programs from (the department) that we would like to take advantage of (where) the guidelines or the restrictions don’t suit the rural resort region, and we want to make sure that what comes forward with the (American Rescue Plan) funding does in fact have opportunities for folks in Summit County to take advantage.”
During the meeting, Andrew Paredes, director of housing finance and sustainability for the Department of Local Affairs, said there is about $1 billion coming to the state for housing. Paredes said about $550 million of this funding came from the American Rescue Plan.
Paredes said the money was put into a new housing trust fund during this past legislature season. About $100 million was already appropriated to the division to be used immediately for what he called “shovel-ready projects.” In the meantime, Paredes said an interim task force will meet this summer and early fall to discuss the remaining $450 million with various stakeholder groups. The task force will use the feedback collected to inform the legislature about how the money should be spent so it can draft the necessary legislation during the next session.
Paredes continued to discuss how the remaining money of the $1 billion allocated to the state would be spent, which includes rental relief and emergency rental assistance, homeownership assistance — including down payment assistance — and homeless prevention programs.
After his presentation, Pogue voiced concerns that in the past, programs offered by the department haven’t been suited for rural resort mountain communities and barriers discourage developers. She said she hopes communities like Summit County will be considered as the task force begins to collect feedback.
Paredes acknowledged Pogue’s comments and noted that one of the best ways to move the needle and advocate for Summit County was to communicate with the interim task force.
“I certainly recognize the — if you want to call it red tape — the administrative barriers to acting quickly, so I absolutely encourage you all, as a single voice through any of your collective … organizations to voice that to the interim committee as well because that will 100% make us more efficient and be able to react quickly, get money out the door, to get developers interested,” Paredes said.
During the meeting, Paredes and other representatives from the department praised Summit County and town officials for their work in moving the needle on the workforce housing front. Vargo followed up by saying that without the state’s additional help, the county won’t be able to continue successful efforts in the future.
“I appreciate the kudos in terms of what the (the towns) have done,” Vargo said. “I think that makes it all the more troublesome with the situation we find ourselves in. We are at a tipping point in terms of losing our community. COVID has done no favors to Summit County in terms of us losing workforce.”
Vargo pointed out that more residential properties sold are not bought by locals or turned into long-term housing, and that bringing back workers who left the county during the pandemic has been near impossible.
“Getting the workforce back is an incredible challenge,” he said. “Despite the fact that our community has been so supportive of funding a number of different initiatives that the county has put forward, that the towns have put forward, we are still way behind in terms of being able to maintain a sense of community within Summit County. We want credit for what we’ve done but we need help to keep making progress.”
Pogue echoed Vargo’s thoughts.
“Ultimately, tourism is one of the largest industries in the state and if we don’t have a workforce to support that industry, it is not just Summit County that’s going to change, it’s the whole state that’s going to change,” she said. “If I impart nothing else today, I would really just love to stress to you all that we need more innovative thinking here. We need a genuine back and forth partnership to figure out how we address the needs of rural mountain communities.”
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