Elected officials, town staff, business owners, lodging companies and more come together to identify solutions to Summit County’s workforce housing ‘crisis’
Coffee cups were filled, name tags were pinned and the room at Beaver Run Resort and Conference Center was buzzing with chatter from leaders across Summit County on Wednesday morning. This week, Keystone Policy Center coordinated a half-day housing summit, gathering over 90 nonprofit leaders, business owners, elected officials and town staff to brainstorm and collaborate about potential strategies that could be used to mitigate the county’s workforce housing shortage.
Called the Summit County Housing Action Initiative, the event is one of many strategies Summit County staff has presented as a means to tackle the county’s complex workforce housing issues.
The day kicked off with a few words from Summit County Commissioners Elisabeth Lawrence, Josh Blanchard and Tamara Pogue. During their speeches, all three stressed the urgency they felt to come up with a multitude of strategies.
“It’s certainly probably our largest priority right now,” Lawrence said. “I know we said we were in a housing crisis five years ago, but that was child’s play compared to now. We’re in a totally different place.”
Following the commissioners’ remarks was a panel presentation about current projects in the pipeline. The discussion then moved into a brainstorming session led by Berrick Abramson, senior policy director for the Keystone Policy Center.
Abramson declared that “no idea was off the table” as attendees shouted out potential short- and long-term solutions, partnerships and processes that could target different components of the county’s affordable housing shortage.
One of these ideas was to expand funding. In 2015, voters passed a ballot measure called 5A, which is a sales and use tax of 0.125% that helps fund housing projects within the county. Though the money is helpful, one attendee pointed out that the tax alone isn’t enough to keep up with demand.
“If we just addressed what’s needed in (Breckenridge) today — just today — at the very low end, it’s $100 million up to half a billion with development of housing, and 5A alone will not generate those dollars that we need to do that,” Breckenridge Town Manager Rick Holman said. “We need to look for other funding opportunities.”
During the brainstorming session, Frisco Mayor Hunter Mortensen said he also wanted attendees to rethink how they approach the issue.
“I also want to add, on the bigger perspective, changing the way we discuss (the topic) or think about it as affordable housing or workforce housing and look at it more as critical infrastructure for our community because that’s where we’re seeing the problem,” Mortensen said. “It’s time to shift how we name it.”
Abramson wrote each idea down on large poster sheets, and then attendees took three Post-it notes and placed them on the ideas they most supported.
The most popular ideas were to :
- Create a centralized clearing house for residents to get more information about rental properties and potentially get on a waiting list
- Continue with the Lake Hill workforce development project
- Convert some short-term rental units into long-term units
- Renew the 5A funding measure in the next few years and identify other potential funding sources
- Support measures to allow for more accessory dwellings
- Research the potential to add modular homes around the county
Once finished, Abramson broke attendees into three groups, and each group discussed two ideas. The discussion within the breakouts focused on what it would take to get these six potential solutions implemented in the community, including identifying major players that need to be involved, the cost of the strategy, what a timeline would look like, potential barriers and more.
At the beginning of the event, Abramson said the goal was to have concrete, actionable next steps outlined moving forward, but some of the breakout groups noted that additional research and brainstorming would need to happen before action could be taken.
For example, the group that discussed converting short-term rental units into long-term rentals said there were many stakeholders and situations at play and that the topic would need more collaboration before moving forward.
Other ideas, such as identifying a clearing house for locals, were acted upon at the event. For example, attendees noted that there needed to be a resource or a one-stop shop, for locals and employees to visit to get comprehensive information about the county’s available housing.
Attendees noted that residents and employees rely on myriad sources to find housing, including the Facebook group One Man’s Junk Summit County as well as friends and family and word-of-mouth.
Attendees identified that the Summit Combined Housing Authority could fill this void, and new Executive Director Rob Murphy voiced his support for the idea.
Next steps were also identified for the Lake Hill workforce housing development. Some of the steps identified included moving forward with zoning requirements, applying for state and federal funding, and identifying a potential developer to help with the project.
In all, more than 30 strategies were suggested, six of which were discussed during the event. All of this research plus the discussions, will be compiled into a report created by the Keystone Policy Center, which will be used to keep momentum on the housing discussion. Moving forward, elected officials expected to continue collaborating with town staff, business owners, nonprofit leaders and other attendees.
“Let’s work together, let’s put egos aside, let’s bring money together — because we all have it in little bits in different ways — and we’re going to make something happen here,” Lawrence said.
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