Summit County isn’t building nearly enough housing for the majority of its workforce

This conceptual rendering shows how a planned apartments project on the town-owned Block 11 property in Breckenridge could look once complete. The project is progress, but doesn't make a dent on housing needs in Summit County.
Special to the Daily

Summit County has made strides in addressing workforce housing for some, but not for the vast majority of people who work here. That was one of the main takeaways from Summit County’s recent Combined Housing Summit last month, where affordable workforce housing was one of the main topics of discussion.

Summit Combined Housing Authority executive director Jason Dietz laid out the stark reality of the problem with numbers the organization pulled from the latest housing needs assessment.

Through 2020, the county needs to build several hundred housing units to catch up with existing workforce housing needs along with population growth. To determine what housing is considered “affordable” for workforce housing, the federal Department of Housing & Urban Development uses Area Median Income (AMI) as a base metric. AMI is a complex calculation that fluctuates wildly year by year and is based on census data about area incomes as well as household size. The AMI for Summit County in 2018 for a single person is $63,500, while a dual-person household is $72,500 and a family of four is set at $90,600, according to HUD data and data extrapolated by the county. Workforce housing is usually targeted toward people earning 60 to 120 percent of the AMI.

For people who make less than 60 percent of the county’s AMI — roughly 77 percent of the region’s workforce ­— there are only 76 units being built against the projected need of more than 820 and none of them are going to be available to renters.

There’s will also be a shortage of units for people who earn 80 percent of the AMI or higher, but the shortage is a lot less drastic.

“It is hard for developers to build a sustainable product for renters in general, but it’s even harder for the people who make 40 to 80 percent of AMI — the people who need it most and where we have the greatest need in the county,” said Family & Intercultural Resource director Tamara Drangstveit. “It supports the idea that there is a huge rental housing crisis that is not being addressed right now.”

The people in this income bracket usually make up the essence of neighborhoods — young people who are looking to take root somewhere and start a career, young families, journeymen professionals and tradesmen looking for somewhere to hang their shingle and provide a service for the community.

Dietz said that the potential profit from building housing for people who are at 80 to 120 percent of AMI is the reason the new developments such as the Wintergreen development have catered to that section. However, he is well aware of how that was not addressing the county’s biggest need.

“The product we’re missing are the apartments and homes for people who make less than 60 percent of AMI. That is the focus,” Dietz said. “The jurisdiction is looking looking at the next opportunities to help fill that gap.”

Unfortunately, as with most problems in rural mountain communities, the root is money. The authority estimated that it will cost upwards of $338 million to build the needed number of units in the county. The 5A construction fund passed in 2016 only provides about $10 million a year.

Yet, several strategies were floated at the recent housing summit. For one, an apartment complex near the Blue 52 development in Breckenridge is looking to target people at the lower AMI.

Another key is to increase awareness of the problem to the people and policymakers alike. The county and state can’t afford to build the housing on its own, and private developers must be incentivized or encouraged to build units.

“We’ve addressed a few things, but there are still gaps all over the place when it comes to housing here,” Dietz said. “But we’re definitely putting a magnifying glass to focus on the problem with these missing units.”

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