Residents share firsthand accounts of how they are dealing with Summit County’s affordable housing shortage
Some are living with multiple roommates, others are relocating to nearby counties and some are leaving the region altogether
Summit County’s lack of affordable housing is a complex issue and one that community leaders and elected officials are scrambling to solve. Last month, the Summit County Housing Department laid out potential short-, mid- and long-term strategies to help mitigate the issue, and more recently, the Keystone Policy Center held a housing summit for stakeholders to brainstorm additional solutions.
In the meantime, businesses are struggling to attract and retain staff members, including people like Nancy Shaffer.
Originally from Arlington, Virginia, Shaffer and her two sons moved to Summit County in July 2016. Upon their move, Shaffer said she and her family experienced one housing issue after another.
The first home the family lived in was a house in the Willowbrook neighborhood in Silverthorne. The family lived there for two years before their Denver-based landlord decided to sell the home. Shaffer said she offered to purchase the property but that the landlord ultimately asked for a price she couldn’t afford. In 2018, she packed up her family and moved to a new rental house in Summit Cove.
At the time, Shaffer was working for Vail Resorts and earning a salary of about $60,000. Paying for the cost of a move, plus first and last month’s rent and a security deposit took a hefty chunk out of her budget. To ensure she and her family could remain in stable housing at least through her son’s graduation, she said she made clear to her new landlord that she intended to stay for at least three years.
“We had a three-year lease, but it was basically year to year,” Shaffer said. “… I was very clear that I want to stay here because moving is expensive, and I’m moving an entire home full of furniture and kids.”
One year later, the family had to move again. Similar to before, the family’s landlord wanted to take advantage of the real estate market and needed them out of the unit. Shaffer said the news was heartbreaking.
“I was taking a run around (Summit) Cove crying because I was just so devastated,” she said. “I didn’t have the money to move. I didn’t know what to do.”
She was given 30 days’ notice, and during that time, she identified another rental within Summit Cove. At the time, the unit was a short-term rental that cost $4,700 per month. Shaffer and the property owner eventually came to an agreement that rent would cost $3,000 with the understanding that it could increase in the coming years. In early September, the family moved in.
Shaffer and her family lived in the unit for two years before they were scrambling again. Shaffer said when it was time to renew for the family’s third year, the landlord raised the rent to $4,700 per month. Shaffer, who said she had always worked three to four jobs while living in Summit County, couldn’t oblige. Shortly after, on May 16, Shaffer said she and her family were given 60 days’ notice to move out of the property.
This time around, the family didn’t get as lucky finding a new unit. Shaffer, who was working as the director of the Summit Historical Society, moved back to Arlington, Virginia. One of her sons moved to Arizona while the other remained in Summit County and currently lives with friends.
“When the moving truck came on (July) 10, we all cried a lot and everybody went their own way,” she said.
Shaffer’s story is not an unusual one in Summit County. In many cases, locals are priced out of the market due to a lack of affordable and available housing options.
Lynn Champagne-Fee experienced the same thing.
She and her husband lived in Summit County for more than 30 years and chose not to buy, initially assuming they wouldn’t be in the area for long. Champagne-Fee said the couple moved to Summit County for her husband’s job as a general contractor and decided to live in rental units.
For the couple’s first 10 years, they lived in a condo in Silverthorne. The next 21 years, the couple lived in two different houses in Frisco. When their lease was up, they began searching for another unit within the county but, finding none, ended up renting a house in Leadville, where they currently reside.
“It’s just really, really sad that local people that have lived in the community, have dealt with the community, have put things back into the community, can’t live in the community anymore,” Champagne-Fee said.
Emily Smrtic also had trouble finding housing when she first moved to the county seven months ago. Originally from New York, Smrtic began working at Copper Mountain Resort when she first arrived in the area. For three months, she lived in a short-term rental she found through the Facebook group One Man’s Junk Summit County.
She now has a one-year lease with two other roommates in a house in Summit Cove. Smrtic said her rent is $850 for her share of the two-bedroom house with a loft.
Though the price is more affordable than many other rentals on the market, it’s not an ideal situation with one roommate not having a bedroom. Smrtic, who is now a preschool teacher at Lake Dillon Preschool, said many of her co-workers also struggle to find housing and that it has become the norm.
“My co-workers at the preschool who afford housing, they’re either commuting from Kremmling — which is almost an hour, hour-and-a-half drive for them every day — or they have two joint incomes, or they are doing things like me where they’re living with a lot of roommates in order to afford it,” Smrtic said. “But no one can really afford to live here based off one income at the moment.”
Smrtic said she plans to stay in Summit County but is currently thinking about getting a second job at a restaurant to make ends meet.
For more information about Summit County’s work on housing, visit SummitCountyCo.gov/1155/housing.
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