Top Stories of 2016: The Summit County housing crisis (No. 1)
Editor’s note: The Summit Daily is counting down the top 10 stories of 2016.
The story has been told a dozen different ways. A family’s rent doubles, forcing them to move to a trailer park down the hill, then out of Summit County altogether. Another family, another rent hike, and a move to a cramped, multi-family unit where children sleep on the floor. A new landlord and a new rent, and a decades-long resident homeless for the first time in his life.
For the past three months, the Summit Daily has documented these stories in a 13-part series exploring a booming housing market — and those left behind.
According to a study released by the county in August, median monthly rent in Summit is affordable for about 19 percent of locals. The county needs 1,685 new units by 2020, but where they will be built is an open question.
The approval of ballot measure 5A on Election Day provided a partial answer. Through a sales tax increase, 5A will generate $8 million a year for housing construction, clearing the way for developments like Lake Hill near Frisco, which will add 430 units over 10 years.
The money will go through the Summit Combined Housing Authority, which underwent a shake-up in October when executive director Jennifer Kermode left following a dispute with the board.
She has threatened legal action, accusing the board of gender discrimination, political retaliation and open meetings violations.
The board, consisting of representatives from local governments, denied those claims. In mid-December, it settled on a new governing structure that scales back the executive director’s authority. It hasn’t chosen Kermode’s replacement yet.
In the private sector, development company Brynn Grey Partners has shown that affordable housing can be good business. It has built two neighborhoods — Wellington in Breckenridge and Peak One in Frisco — made up of deed-restricted homes, which are typically sold to local families below a certain income threshold.
Those have been a blessing for people like Teresa Zube, who bought her deed-restricted home in 2014 and lives there with her two children. It hasn’t always been a bed of roses — a construction error caused a pipe to burst last year, flooding her home — but in the end, she’s grateful to be a homeowner.
“I would never have been able to afford to live here,” she said in November. “It’s awesome because all of the people in this neighborhood, they have kids my kids’ age, and they all play and I think that’s really unique in this town.”
Local nonprofits have also gotten involved. In July, Norma Quezada was told to vacate her Dillon Valley apartment within a month, along with her partner and two children. The owner planned to renovate and sell the property.
At first, she thought her family would have to leave the county. But she visited the Family Intercultural and Resource Center, a local nonprofit, and learned she qualified for a program called Housing Works, pairing qualified tenants with landlords.
“It’s a home,” she said in August, after moving into a new condo. “A home for us that we know we can come to and not have problems, that we know it’s secure, and that it will be here.”
Churches have also pitched in, offering showers, internet access and hot meals to those in need.
“We’ve seen situations where people had a job lined up, but didn’t have housing, or maybe thought they had housing but it fell through,” said Jeremy Frye, a pastor at the Church at Agape Outpost, in October.
People will continue to need help. Some, like Jim McGuire and Mary Rose Hills, might resort to living in substandard housing just to have a roof over the heads. The couple said they lived for months in a house with no heat and pipes that burst. It was condemned last week, they said, forcing them to temporarily move in with friends.
Others will join the ranks of the roughly 12,000 people who work here but commute from neighboring counties. Many might simply leave.
But through the combined efforts of local governments, nonprofits, businesses and even landlords like Eric Ojala, who chooses to charge rents below market value, there are people who are getting relief.
Those efforts may seem small in the face of such a big problem, but their impact is immeasurable to people like Justin and Abbi Tietjen, who will soon be homeowners after eight years in Summit. They’re set to move into a deed-restricted townhome at Copper Mountain when construction is finished in January.
“A lot of people leave Summit County,” Abbi said in mid-December. But the deed-restricted property “made it realistic to purchase a home here when we didn’t really think we could otherwise. We feel fortunate.”
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