Summit County staff lays out proposed housing code changes to county commissioners
Proposed tweaks could impact maximum rental rates, unit sizes, tiny homes and more
Summit County officials have spent the summer laser-focused on developing a multitude of solutions to tackle the community’s affordable housing issue.
Just this summer, the county hosted a housing summit to brainstorm ideas with other community leaders, toured a new facility in Buena Vista that’ll manufacture modular homes and began developing a program that aims to convert short-term rentals into long-term housing units.
Another strategy currently getting fleshed out is tweaking the county’s housing code. During a Summit Board of County Commissioners work session meeting Tuesday, Aug. 31, a small group of county staff members presented one part of a two-part presentation for how they could make small changes to the code to help spur affordable housing developments.
During Tuesday’s presentation, Senior Planner Jessica Potter outlined five proposed tweaks, including:
- Adjusting the maximum rental rates for workforce housing
- Offering more flexibility for projects that align with county goals
- Adjusting the minimum unit size and amenities required for affordable housing projects
- Adding standards for shared-amenity housing
- Adding standards for tiny houses
Summit County Housing Director Jason Dietz said these particular strategies were developed in areas where his department has gotten the most feedback from developers throughout the years. While all three county commissioners shared their thoughts on each strategy, they agreed they’d like to see more details and encouraged staff to continue exploring the proposed tweaks.
Potter noted that there will be plenty of opportunities for the public to comment on the proposed strategies and that any changes to the code likely wouldn’t be official until late fall or early winter.
Adjusting maximum rental rates
The first proposed strategy Potter presented to the commissioners was changing the maximum rental rate from 60% of area median income to 100%.
Potter and Dietz said the current standard is very low and that the only projects that have adhered to the standard were ones granted a low-income housing tax credit.
“The important part about that is that if projects don’t meet the housing code, then they’d be subject to” other requirements, Dietz said, adding that those requirements can be rather expensive. “That’s one of the reasons why we haven’t really had a lot of rental projects built within the county because we’ve had the 60% requirement.”
All the county commissioners agreed they’d like this standard to be raised, but it’s still in discussion whether it should be raised to 100% or more. Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue suggested the cap could be at 120%, but others raised concerns that figure would double the current standard.
According to the Summit Combined Housing Authority’s data, a studio at 60% area median income would cost about $1,000, a one-bedroom would cost about $1,080 and a two-bedroom would cost about $1,300 per month.
At 100% of area median income, a studio would cost about $1,680, a one-bedroom would cost about $1,800, and a two-bedroom would cost about $2,160 per month.
Flexible purchase prices
The second strategy Potter proposed to the board came out of the Dillon Valley Vistas development process.
“When Jason (Dietz) was developing Dillon Valley Vistas’ … for-sale product in Dillon Valley, the board at the time wanted him to put extra sustainability upgrades into those homes, which have costs behind them,” Potter explained in an interview.
Potter said the strategy is to fine-tune the way the current code reads so that if a developer furthers a county goal there would be flexibility to increase the maximum area median income for that project.
“We were furthering a goal. It wasn’t a specific master plan goal, but it was a county goal, and it was for a project less than 15 units. The way the code read, it still needed to be at 100% (area median income).”
During the commissioners’ meeting, Pogue noted that she’d like to see the code be transparent in its language regarding what exactly the goals are so it’s made clear to developers moving forward.
Adjusting requirements for unit size and amenities
When Potter and Dietz were proposing this particular strategy, they said they were aiming to present a way to make the minimum unit size and amenities for affordable housing projects more equitable.
For example, Dietz said units capped at a lower area median income might be 450 square feet but a 140% area median income studio would be 650 square feet. The goal was to have one standard for all rates instead of many standards based on an income rate. To do this, the team suggested other amenities could make the units more livable, such as storage, garages and shared workspaces.
Pogue and Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence voiced their support for smaller units and noted that doing so could create denser developments.
Adding new standards
The last two strategies discussed included adding new standards to the county’s housing code.
The first would add standards for shared-amenity housing, which Dietz said would be similar to the Alpine Inn master lease. This type of housing would have shared amenities, such as kitchens and living spaces, but tenants would have their own bedrooms and bathrooms.
The second would tweak the current language around tiny homes. While tiny homes are allowed in the county, what’s not allowed is putting multiple tiny houses on a single plot of land. Mobile tiny homes currently aren’t allowed either.
Both of these new strategies largely still need to be fleshed out and researched. If added, they would create baselines for developments in unincorporated areas of the county in the future.
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