Summit County officials call short-term rental conversion ideas a ‘starting point’

The document of suggestions was produced by the Summit Alliance of Vacation Rental Managers

Short-term rental properties in the Copper Mountain Resort village are pictured Aug. 13. Community leaders are discussing strategies that would incentivize owners of short-term rentals to convert their properties into long-term housing through the use of opportunity zones. These zones would target areas traditionally occupied by locals and not areas like Copper Mountain or Keystone.
Photo by Ashley Low

When the Summit Alliance of Vacation Rental Managers put together its Welcome Workforce program, President Toby Babich said the document was meant to be a catalyst for getting the countywide conversation started about how short-term rental owners could be incentivized to convert their units into long-term housing for locals.

The document detailing suggestions — including monthly subsidies, property tax exemptions and complimentary nights of lodging — was shared with Summit County staff earlier this month, and during a Summit Board of County Commissioners work session meeting Tuesday, Aug. 24, elected officials and staff from the housing department had the chance to discuss their insights.

Summit County Housing Director Jason Dietz said the document should be thought of as a starting point and said it’s important for the county’s eventual program to have buy-in from key stakeholder groups like the Alliance of Vacation Rental Managers.

“As we’re developing and getting ready to unroll this program, I think that this is one piece of the much larger program that is targeting short-term rentals and having a good working relationship with (the alliance),” Dietz said. “I think that ideally, a public-private partnership will provide a lot of buy-in on the project from short-term rental owners to help with that conversion process.”

Dietz noted a few areas where the county and the alliance are approaching the housing shortage differently. For example, Dietz said the alliance’s Workforce Welcome program focuses more on property management companies that own units rather than individuals.

Both Dietz and Summit County Manager Scott Vargo said the county’s program is likely going to focus more on individual owners who have units in traditionally local neighborhoods, though others can participate, too, if they’d like.

Vargo also noted that if the county’s program targets underperforming units, funding could stretch further than if it was spent on high-performing short-term units.

“It’s a more attractive opportunity for them and less expensive hopefully to use that subsidy versus a really well-performing short-term rental trying to convert that to a long-term rental and make up that difference,” Vargo said.

Dietz noted that the county’s program doesn’t aim to convert all short-term rental units within unincorporated Summit County but rather to target these types of units in the hopes their owners switch their properties into long-term housing. Dietz emphasized that incentivizing these owners would be a “smaller financial lift” where these types of units could potentially perform just as good, if not better, as a long-term rental.

“Working with the (alliance) property managers that manage short-term rentals should certainly be a part of the county’s program, but (the alliance) may not have many of the unincorporated county short-term rentals that we’re looking to convert,” Dietz wrote in an email. “Our overall program should be more encompassing to include others that aren’t using property management or aren’t (alliance) members and tie together with other rental clearinghouse programs that are being explored.”

Not only that, but Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said the alliance’s program “felt very Breck-centric.” Lawrence was referencing some of the suggested additional incentives outlined in the program that could be waived or reduced for short-term rental owners, such as Breckenridge’s business and occupational licenses and tax, and offering seven nights of complimentary lodging in town.

Breckenridge Town Manager Rick Holman said he and his staff have also reviewed the document put together by the Alliance of Vacation Rental Managers. Holman noted that some of the suggested incentives directly related to the town are not incentives that are likely to show up in some of the town’s own programs. Nevertheless, he said he’s glad the group is working with town and county staff to develop potential solutions.

“Some of those warrant further looking into, and we’re doing that when it comes to how we help subsidize property owners and offset costs, and that’s a valid expense that we’re prepared to work toward,” Holman said. “I think some of the things in there are unrealistic. But at the same time, I appreciate their willingness to get involved and help find solutions. That doesn’t mean everything is doable.”

Dietz agreed that some of the suggested incentives weren’t going to be feasible.

“When I first read it, I had a lot of questions,” Dietz said. “It felt like the incentives were quite high for what they were looking for, but again, it’s just a place to start the conversation.”

Though the county’s program is still being finalized, Dietz told the county commissioners that in general, a lot of these incentives likely won’t appear in the county’s program.

“A lot of those extra things probably aren’t honestly needed in many cases,” Dietz said. “In some cases, they very well may be. But it’s not necessarily what we’re looking at as a first step in the Summit County program.”

As for next steps, Dietz said he is continuing to work with stakeholders like the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, the Alliance of Vacation Rental Managers and other property managers, small businesses and more to get a better understanding of how these short-term rental units are currently being used. From there, Dietz said he and his team will identify potential lease terms that could work for short-term rental owners if they convert to long term.

Dietz said the county would like to see about 100 units converted per year to long-term housing for locals, which is the same goal the alliance quantified in its plan.

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