Frisco reassesses housing strategy, plans to revamp Housing Helps Program
The Frisco Town Council held a high-level discussion on housing strategies during a work session discussion earlier this month, hoping to adjust its polices to be more effective in reaching its long-term goals.
Don Reimer, Frisco’s community development director, led council members through data on the town’s housing inventory and a discussion on how best to fill the gaps. The town identified several high-priority housing goals in the 2020-21 strategic plan, including increasing full-time residency to 50% and creating a five-year housing capital projects plan, which officials hope will help to propel the council’s broader vision for the future of the town.
“(The council) has this goal to focus on the sense of community and small-town character that we have and that we enjoy,” Reimer said. “Housing is integral to each of these goals that we have in this strategic plan, whether it’s inclusive community, recreation or whatever else it may be.”
Reimer provided an update on the town’s current housing situation to highlight trends and show where the gaps are in terms of community need. According to his report, almost half of the town’s housing stock — about 3,600 units total — is in condominiums and about 53% of the town’s entire inventory contains two or fewer bedrooms.
Perhaps more notable is the price of the town’s housing. A two-bedroom unit is about $600,000, based on taxable value from the county assessor’s office for market-rate properties in town. A family of three earning 160% of area median income makes about $138,000 a year. Reimer noted that market prices tend to be higher than taxable value and that fewer than half of the units in Frisco have a value of less than $600,000.
According to Reimer’s report, there are 170 deed-restricted and employee housing units in town and about 620 short-term rentals.
With that data in hand, council members were able to identify gaps in community needs. For example, while about 59% of the town’s units exist in the high-end market above 180% of area median income, only 10% of the units are available for individuals with an incomes under 100% of the median for the area.
There are some projects in the works that could help to address a lack of availability of lower-income units. A proposed workforce housing partnership with CDOT could bring 20 to 25 units to town in the near future, and the town is working on a request for proposals for a housing project on the Sabatini Lot, which could bring another 15 or so units to town. Centura Health also is developing a workforce housing project off Summit Boulevard.
But officials said it’s clear that trying to solve the problem through development is a losing battle, largely due to a lack of available space in the area to build.
“I think one thing that I’ve always said is we’re not going to build our way out of this and solve the housing problem just by building,” Reimer said. “So what are some other options to increase residency in our community?”
Council members said the town’s Housing Helps Program, which was adopted in 2019, had failed the “beta test” and was in need of a revamp. Through the program, the town will subsidize 15% (up to $75,000) for individuals buying a unit in the area in return for a deed restriction that includes employment requirements and a 100% area median income cap. Reimer said not a single resident in town has taken advantage of the program.
Council directed staff to look into some potential changes to get the community more involved with the program, including allowing the purchase of deed restrictions from current property owners — instead of during sales — and removing the income cap.
“If you’re asking someone with a market home to only get paid $75,000 to put a 100% (area median income) deed restriction, the value of that deed restriction is several hundred thousand dollars,” council member Melissa Sherburne said. “So it is just totally misaligned. I’d like us to get to the heart of that. Let’s fix that program because we’ve seen this work in Vail for years; we’re seeing it work in Breckenridge. Now I’m understanding why ours is flawed.”
The program also allows the town to purchase properties outright and either sell or rent them with a deed restriction. In January, the town purchased a $410,000 condo. During the meeting, they decided to rent the unit at 80% of area median income, which amounts to about $69,000 a year for a family of three. As the town looks at other potential buy-down opportunities, council members said they could even start looking at properties outside of Frisco, like Bill’s Ranch or Copper Mountain, that still provide workers to the town.
Council members suggested tapping into more tools available to them, like low-income housing tax credits, to help further subsidize any new projects. Members voiced that they had to be more deliberate in how they pursue housing projects by providing a better vision to developers in the early stages for whom the project would support.
The council also emphasized a necessity to provide better incentive for short-term rental owners to transition their properties to long-term rentals.
“I think we can put some money there,” council member Dan Fallon said. “You’re looking at probably $10,000 to $30,000 per unit, probably, depending on where you want to target the (area median income) that you need to get above where those people are cash flowing to get them to start to look at it. There’s enough benefits, I think, with these other programs that it’s going to start to move a few people.”
While the council did throw around some specific ideas, members ultimately decided they would need a more in-depth discussion solely for housing, with the idea that they could provide staff with a better formulated strategy of which projects they should be pursuing, which community members they’re supporting with each project and how it can be done.
“It’s not having to go back to the board,” council member Rick Ihnken said. “It’s already loosely framed up for Don to come forward with an idea and say, ‘Based on the strategy, this is what we’re going to use for this project.’ And he’s there. We talk about housing, and it’s great that we’re so invested in it, but for five years, it would be nice to have a set strategy that the team can just work from.”
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