Summit County staff outlines strategies to mitigate affordable housing ‘crisis’

Short-term solutions include waiving permitting fees for affordable housing projects, surveying short-term rental owners in traditionally local neighborhoods

Construction of the Dillon Valley Vistas, a workforce housing community, is pictured Nov. 19, 2020. Dillon Valley is one of the proposed opportunity zones highlighted in Summit County Housing Director Jason Dietz’s housing strategy presentation.
Photo by Liz Copan / Studio Copan

At the Summit Board of County Commissioners work session meeting Tuesday, June 15, staff from the Summit County Housing Department unveiled a robust plan of short-, mid- and long-term strategies to help mitigate the affordable housing shortage.

The primary goal laid out by the county is to get 1,000 additional units on the market within the next 12 to 18 months by implementing some of the short-term strategies.

County officials and staff had mentioned in previous meetings that the workforce housing issue was of top concern and that it’s a complex problem that will take a multitude of strategies to solve.

“We really can’t attribute this crisis to one single thing. It’s just … a perfect storm of issues that created this situation that we’re in now,” County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said.

During the presentation, Summit County Housing Director Jason Dietz noted that staff had come up with short-term strategies focused on the next 12 to 18 months, mid-term strategies that focused on the next 18 months to three years, and long-term strategies that focused on the problem in the next three or more years.

Some of the short-term strategies Dietz presented to the board included increasing short-term licensing fees, which Dietz said currently cover only two-thirds of the program’s costs.

A few strategies laid out by Dietz focused on the county’s current housing stock and how it could turn existing short-term rental units into long-term rental units. One such measure was focused on collecting data: Dietz suggested the county create a neighborhood mapping and metrics program to see how these areas are changing, “for good or for bad,” with regard to short-term rentals.

Another strategy suggested was to create and appeal to “opportunity zones,” or neighborhoods that historically house locals, including Dillon Valley, Wildernest, French Creek and Summit Cove.

Dietz said there’s currently 870 short-term rental units within these types of neighborhoods and that the county could develop a conversion program to turn these units into long-term rentals. Part of the effort would be to understand how individuals use their units.

“One of the next steps is to develop a targeted survey to those opportunity zone neighborhoods targeting those short-term rentals to get a better understanding of how they are using those short-term rentals,” Dietz said.

This survey would ask owners when they use their units, how they determine a rental price and whether they are willing to convert their unit. With that information, Dietz said the county could determine what incentives to offer on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis.

These incentives to convert rentals could include a grant. Dietz said the amount, which is yet to be determined, would be based on neighborhood as well as home type and size. Other options include a security guarantee, meaning the county would guarantee rent and a security deposit up to a certain amount, and a property manager finders fee, which would help offset some of the revenue owners might lose from converting. The county also could expand the Housing Works initiative and launch a locals landing type program, which would match tenants with homeowners.

“We want to develop a marketing campaign so we can target those short-term rentals within those opportunity zones to convert to those long-term rentals,” Dietz said. “We still have some work to do on that, but that’s the direction we’re aiming right now is to really make a targeted approach.”

Toby Babich, president of the Summit Alliance of Vacation Rental Managers, said he supports these conversion efforts. Babich noted that it’s also not just short-term rentals causing the issue and said he hopes myriad solutions will be used to solve the problem moving forward.

“I think we all need to realize that this is an entire community issue, and it’s going to take an entire community to solve the issue,” Babich said. “The short-term rental community is going to be part of that discussion and try to present any solutions we can, but we are one of several factors that are creating the housing crisis that we are witnessing unfold right now.”

All three county commissioners agreed it’s going to take a combination of solutions to solve the affordable housing shortage.

“Overall, I’m supportive of all of these strategies, and I think it’s going to take a combination of all of them to be successful,” Commissioner Tamara Pogue said.

In addition to appealing to short-term rental unit owners, Dietz noted that the county is working with a local hotel where the entire property would be master leased into condos, which would then be leased to other businesses or workers within the community.

During the meeting, Dietz said the contract is being finalized this month and that he’d like occupancy to begin July 1. According to the presentation, the annual subsidy for the project is estimated at $286,868. County Manager Scott Vargo said the team is targeting a rental rate of around $850 per month.

The board gave staff praise for the unique solution to some of the housing needs, and Pogue noted that if there are other hotels and motels within the county interested in a relationship like this, the owners should reach out to county staff.

Part of Dietz’s presentation also mentioned working with developer Gorman & Co. to produce more units at the Wintergreen property in Keystone. Dietz said the project was approved for 243 units and that only 196 were built. Dietz reported that the company has already expressed interest in developing additional units. According to the presentation, the county would contribute a $15,000 subsidy for each of the additional 47 units that are already allowed.

In addition to these planned efforts, the board agreed to waive all county fees on workforce housing projects for the next 12 months, which Dietz noted was a small move the board could make to help move projects along.

“I would say this is something we do today, right this second, and we make sure nobody in Summit County doesn’t know we’ve already done it,” Pogue said.

Dietz also mentioned a few county-owned plots of land that could be developed, including a parcel near Silverthorne Elementary, a parcel near the Summit County Justice Center, a parcel near the Snake River Wastewater Treatment Plant and a 5.5-acre parcel that’s partly owned by Breckenridge.

The board continued to show support for other short-term strategies, such as working with the U.S. Forest Service to use various campgrounds in the offseason for those living in RVs or vans, launching a new accessory dwelling unit grant program, starting a program that brings non-compliant accessory dwelling units into compliance, creating a standalone accessory dwelling unit stock plan program, increasing the Summit Combined Housing Authority’s down payment assistance program, hiring a consultant to audit and modify the housing and development code, working with Habitat for Humanity to develop the Soda Creek parcel that is 0.2 acres, acquiring properties owned by Denver Water, and coordinating a housing summit for the end of June or early July that would provide a forum to discuss collaborative projects.

In addition, Dietz reported that the town of Breckenridge has offered to split the cost of the Buy-Down Program — which allows the county to purchase market rate units and place deed restrictions on them — for properties in the Upper Blue River Basin, allowing the county’s money to go further in securing housing.

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