Summit housing partnership targets long-term family rentals

The Family & Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC), the Summit Combined Housing Authority and The Summit Foundation have all partnered on a new housing initiative that will attempt to transition a number of short-term rentals in the county into long-term options for local working families.
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In an effort to help counter the growing housing problems throughout the community, some of Summit County’s heavy hitters have come up with a fresh approach to finding rentals for local working families.

The Family & Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC), the nonprofit community assistance organization, recently established partnerships with both the Summit Combined Housing Authority and The Summit Foundation to form the Housing Works Initiative. Through this collaboration, the agencies will attempt to work with area landlords to transition a number of short-term rentals into long-term options for families working in the county.

“It’s obvious in Summit County we’ve got a housing crisis,” said Tamara Drangstveit, FIRC’s executive director. “There’s just not enough rental stock for everybody that needs a place to live. As a nonprofit, we don’t have a lot of capital or an ability to build, but what we do have an ability to do is partner and to look at the existing housing stock in Summit County that could be re-purposed for a different use.”

The new strategy is based loosely on other master leasing programs in the Front Range as well as across the country that have been successful in converting units that became seasonal rentals or shifted into VRBO and AirBnB staples into workforce housing. FIRC and the Housing Authority, which acts as a resource for members of the community to locate long-term housing, had been in discussions on the project dating back to this past fall, but they needed a funder.

“There are questions we don’t have answers to, but we won’t know the answers unless we jump in and try it. So we’ve finally pushed the button and we’re launching it.”Jennifer Kermode the Housing Authority’s executive director

“Neither of us has the capacity to do the entire program ourselves,” said Jennifer Kermode, the Housing Authority’s executive director. “So using resources that are already out there was the best way to go.”

After finalizing what the pilot program would look like, they applied for a grant with The Summit Foundation, the resource-rich organization that prides itself on improving the quality of life for residents. As of May 1, the Breckenridge-based nonprofit committed to financially backing the initiative for three years, on yearly basis contingent on annual results.

The program works like this: The Housing Authority will sign up willing landlords who have tired of the hassle and potential inconsistencies of these short-term rental options; FIRC will enroll community members looking for rental housing and meeting certain qualifications, with priority going to families with household incomes of between $40,000 and $100,000. The idea is to help professionals working in such places as the hospital, school district, as first responders or as managers in the community.

“A lot of the units that have gone onto the rental market recently have been targeted at lower-income families,” said Drangstveit. “So we felt like we have an opportunity to provide an equivalent for middle-income families. That’s where we thought the highest need was.”

From there, FIRC and the Housing Authority will try to find a match, and use some of the funding from The Summit Foundation to subsidize the rental costs as necessary. In a test run, the collaborative already helped initiate its first match in April. Because they had yet to find a primary funding source, a $3,500 grant provided by Bank of the West covered the last month’s rent and a security deposit on the property — assistance for the lessee available through the program.

Aside from the meeting the income threshold and preference given to families with dependent children, they must also be employed in Summit County. From there, they must agree to credit and background checks, take a six-class course on how to be a good renter and consent to monthly inspections by the Housing Authority to ensure they are meeting the guidelines of the lease.

The prerequisites are all in place to provide protections to the landlords willing to offer up their properties and potentially take less money than with a short-term rental in order to help another local resident. The hope, aside from the guaranteed rent payments and free management services from the Housing Authority, is that the owners of two- and three-bedroom units of all types will recognize the less tangile benefits of ensuring that experienced and established employees are able to stay in the county, which helps the entire community.

“Landlords certainly have a piece to play in this puzzle,” said Drangstveit. “The housing crisis impacts all different sectors of our community, and I think landlords can play a key role in making sure that our community stays stable and stays intact.”

The Summit Foundation’s annual gift totals $50,000. That breaks down to $20,000 for the Housing Authority to hire an independent contractor to act as a property manager, $20,000 to FIRC to supplement the salary of an existing employee who will take on the new responsibilities and $10,000 for the first 10 units established for the program by covering the $1,000 security deposit at each.

The goal is to get 15 units online in the first year, meaning more local investment will be needed. So, the two leading partners plan to go to the county and each of the towns to ask for additional cash through their respective Measure 5A funds. Area businesses will also be approached to possibly scare up monthly subsidies that could help find housing for their own employees.

Even though the program is now moving full speed ahead, organizers fully acknowledge there could be some bumps along the way. In time, they aim to work out all of the unforeseen kinks.

“This model has not been put in place in really any resort community,” said Drangstveit. “And so, part of what we’re doing right now is making sure that the model actually works.”

“There are questions we don’t have answers to,” added Kermode, “but we won’t know the answers unless we jump in and try it. So we’ve finally pushed the button and we’re launching it.”

The FIRC is currently accepting applicants for its tenant waitlist, and the Housing Authority is gathering interested landlords willing to consider altering their rental approach to be part of the program. Potential tenants may direct inquiries to FIRC’s Michel Infante directly at (970) 455-0232 or by email: Landlords may contact the Summit Combined Housing Authority at (970) 423-7043.

“As soon as a landlord steps up, we can get them into the program,” said Drangstveit. “It does not take long to do the contracts and to get everybody on board.”

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