How Summit County worked to tackle its affordable housing problem in 2021

In the spring, community leaders learned more about how the pandemic exacerbated the lack of affordable housing in Summit County. This is what they did to try to alleviate the issue

Longbranch Condominiums in Breckenridge is pictured Thursday, Dec. 30. Housing has long been an issue in Summit County, but this year, it has reached a head as county leaders scramble to get more rental units available for the local workforce.
Tripp Fay/Summit Daily News archive

Summit County and its lack of affordable housing is as much a pair as Vail Resorts and skiing. The community’s struggle to provide the local workforce with enough attainable housing has been a longstanding issue, but this year, the problem reached a boiling point as leaders learned just how dire the situation had become in the wake of the pandemic.

As government and community leaders scrambled to find solutions, the subject of housing in Summit County became one of the most high-interest topics of the year.

Where it all started

For Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue, the issue started to reach an impasse in March. During that time, she started to hear from constituents about how the struggle to find attainable housing was growing.

Over the next few months, the Summit Board of County Commissioners began reviewing data that confirmed what the community was saying. Early on, that data came from a housing needs presentation commissioned by the Summit Combined Housing Authority.

Though the data used in the presentation did not encompass the pandemic — the study was conducted from March 2019 to March 2020 — the results startled leaders. Using 2019 data, about one-third of the county’s overall housing inventory was listed as a short-term rental.

Not only that, but the report predicted that the region, which includes Summit and four nearby counties, had a gap of 2,400 units, which was projected to double by 2023.

The data from a mountain migration report commissioned by the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments is even more telling. The point of the study was to see how the pandemic was playing a part in rural mountain communities’ available housing stock. The study focused on Summit and five other counties.

It found that home prices reached record highs, that rents increased 20% to 40% in one year and that newcomers with significantly higher incomes than year-round residents frequently won the competition for scarce housing units.

The board of commissioners asked the Summit County housing department to put together a plan of short-, mid- and long-term solutions that could help mitigate the crunch as quickly as possible. But these data points coupled with community feedback led the board to officially proclaim a housing crisis.

One month later, elected officials, town staff, business owners, lodging companies and more came together for a housing summit to brainstorm and collaborate about potential strategies that could be used to mitigate the county’s workforce housing shortage.

“(We) recognized that while building had to be one of the strategies, it wasn’t going to be the only strategy that helped mitigate the crisis,” Pogue said.

Since then, the county has signed a lease with Alpine Inn to create 37 units for locals, and voters approved an extension on the Summit Combined Housing Authority’s 0.6% sales tax measure, which now sunsets in 2047. The funding accrued through the tax is allocated to housing projects.

On top of that, Pogue was appointed to the Affordable Housing Transformational Task Force Subpanel, which helps advocate for rural mountain communities and make recommendations to the Legislature on how best to allocate funds for housing that the state receives from the American Rescue Act.

While the county took numerous steps in an effort to alleviate some of the housing crunch felt by locals, Pogue said she’ll be the first to admit that it’s not nearly enough.

The growing pains of a booming real estate industry

As for the availability of single-family homes, most of this inventory is no longer attainable for the local workforce. County leaders are mostly focused on getting more rental units online, and that’s because more often than not, locals are priced out of the real estate market.

According to a November report from Land Title Guarantee Co., the average price for a single-family home this year is $1.72 million. In 2020, it was about $1.39 million, and in 2019, it was about $1.14 million.

Leah Canfield, real estate agent for Coldwell Banker Mountain Properties, said this dramatic increase in prices has to do with inflation and the remote worker phenomenon. Canfield said as more people transitioned to working from home, they began gravitating toward areas like Summit County, where they could enjoy mountain living without forgoing a high-paying job.

This effectively exacerbated a market that was already difficult for locals to break into before the pandemic started.

“In terms of how the housing market is affecting the local community, yes, it’s absolutely continuing to make it harder and harder to afford to live here, especially on a salary (that) is supporting the local community via the ski area, a restaurant or even bankers, teachers, doctors,” Canfield said.

According to the November report, 23% of the inventory bought in November was by locals. The rest was bought from those outside of Summit County. While some remote workers might have moved into those properties as renters, it’s a common occurrence that buyers turn their properties into short-term rentals when they’re not in use.

But this year, many towns and the county began implementing measures in hopes that it would slow down this trend.

Land Title Guarantee Co.'s November report shows how the average price of single-family homes, multifamily homes and vacant land has changed over the years. According to the November market analysis, the average price for a single-family home this year is $1.72 million. In 2020, it was about $1.39 million, and in 2019, it was about $1.14 million.
Land Title Guarantee Co./Courtesy graph

Short-term rental regulations on the rise

When county leaders learned just how much of the community’s housing stock was dedicated to short-term rentals, many government entities began taking matters into their own hands to limit the industry’s reach.

Not all of these measures meant extra restrictions, though. The town of Breckenridge and Summit County partnered on a short-term rental conversion program that incentivized owners of these units to transition their properties into long-term housing for the local workforce. As of Nov. 20, the program had housed 32 people. The town of Frisco launched a similar program.

But some strategies did place limitations on short-term rentals. In September, Summit County passed a moratorium on short-term rental licenses. Once that moratorium was lifted in December, the county adopted a new short-term license structure that limits most licenses to 135 nights per year.

The town of Breckenridge passed a short-term rental cap that limits short-term rental licenses at 2,200, though there are exemptions in resort areas.

The town of Dillon increased its fees and placed occupancy limits on its licenses, and the town of Frisco is pursuing an excise tax on short-term rentals that will likely appear on the April 2022 ballot. Sliverthorne is also planning to ask its voters for a lodging tax increase in the April election.

In light of these new regulations and to be part of the ongoing conversation, short-term rental industry leaders formed the Summit Alliance of Vacation Rental Managers. More recently, president of the group Toby Babich, who is also the owner of Breckenridge Resort Managers, called the community’s patchwork of regulations a “dumpster fire.”

New projects on the horizon

It’s no surprise that short-term rental owners and those in the industry aren’t pleased with some of these new regulations. Many have advocated to the county that community leaders should focus on building more housing.

In fact, the county is doing that, too.

To start, community leaders learned building isn’t a catch-all solution. For example, Summit County has very few parcels of land to develop. That aside, developing affordable housing, especially in a rural mountain community, has its barriers, and more recently, that includes working around supply-chain issues caused by the pandemic.

Even still, the county is one of the biggest players that has a hand in the most projects. This year, the county began the rezoning process on the Lake Hill affordable housing development near Frisco. It also helped get the funding needed for the second phase of the Village at Wintergreen in Keystone.

The county is also working with the towns of Breckenridge and Dillon. In Breckenridge, the two entities are working on securing modular homes for the Justice Center parcel. And in Dillon, the two entities are working on a new affordable development along with the U.S. Forest Service.

Other projects across the county include breaking ground on the Alta Verde development in Breckenridge, movement on the final phase of Smith Ranch in Silverthorne and a few smaller projects launched by the town of Frisco, one of which is potentially buying the Colorado Workforce Center building and turning it into housing.

Though there’s still a long way to go before these units can be occupied, developing more housing is a step in the right direction, local leaders say.


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