Summit County residents can now be paid for building accessory dwelling units. Here’s how it works.
A new county program provides subsidies to homeowners who convert or build rent-capped units
Homeowners in unincorporated parts of Summit County can now receive tens of thousands of dollars in subsidies for building an accessory dwelling unit under a new county program.
Residents could see up to $60,000 of a project’s cost reimbursed by the county, so long as they follow the program’s requirements. According to Don Bantam, project manager for the county’s housing department, the program has pledged nearly $150,000 to homeowners since launching this summer, with roughly $350,000 still to allocate.
Given the interest county officials said they’ve seen in the program, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we run through our funding by the end of the year,” Bantam said.
As part of a pilot program Bantam hopes will receive more funding in the future, the subsidies are one piece of a larger effort by county officials to spur the development of accessory dwelling units, which officials see as being key in their plan to increase affordable housing.
While the subsidy aims to provide rent-controlled units to working residents, it also grants homeowners the ability to use the housing for aging relatives. And because the program’s covenant — the binding document that sets the parameters for occupancy — is transferable between the unit and primary house, it allows homeowners who wish to downsize to occupy the accessory unit while renting out their main home.
“It does create some flexibility,” Bantam said, adding that such units are “fitting more people’s lifestyles and becoming more desirable to them.”
How it works
Because the subsidy program is county-funded, only residents of unincorporated Summit County are eligible. That includes major neighborhoods such as Summit Cove, Wildernest, Farmers Korner and Peak 7.
The application process starts with an online form that can be found on the county’s website. Applicants will be asked a slew of questions, including whether they are building or converting a unit, their proposed unit size, an estimate of their budget and which sewer and water provider they plan to use.
If approved, homeowners will be sent a copy of their covenant to review before signing. They can also apply for a building permit through the county. Residents who’ve already received building permits for their projects will not be eligible to apply for the funding.
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Homeowners won’t see the subsidy until after construction is completed and the structure has received a certificate of occupancy. After that, the county will cut a check, which Bantam said can be used however the homeowner chooses, whether it be for furnishing the unit’s inside or to help pay off a loan used during the building process.
“It does create some flexibility,” he said.
How much money can you get?
County funding is based on a sliding scale. Homeowners will see the most funds for new construction and less for conversions of existing spaces. Subsidies are also greater for homeowners who keep their rent lower.
For all types of projects, the county program covers 25% of the project cost up to a maximum dollar amount for units rented at 110% of the area median income. Using 2023 median income figures, that translates to rent being between $2,134 for a studio and $2,745 for a two-bedroom.
However, for homeowners who agree to rent at lower income levels, between 80% and 100% of the area median, they could see between 30% and 40% of their total project costs covered, though the maximum dollar amounts would remain the same. Depending on income levels and unit size, rent would be as low as $1,552 and as high as $2,495.
Here’s the breakdown of maximum funding amounts based on each project:
- New construction: Up to $40,000 for a studio, $50,000 for a one-bedroom and $60,000 for a two-bedroom unit with a rental cap of 110% of the area median income.
- Existing unfinished space: Up to $35,000.
- Existing finished space: Up to $30,000.
- Conversion of non-compliant unit to a compliant unit: Up to $25,000.
“There’s so many good people in the community who want to put (a unit) in but have run the numbers and said, ‘The price for construction is too expensive,'” Bantam said. “We hope the 25% of funding is what is going to push people over the top.”
And because area median incomes change on an annual basis, Bantam said rent caps will fluctuate as well, meaning homeowners are not permanently locked into their agreed-upon rents.
More information on the county’s subsidy program can be found at tinyurl.com/SummitADUs
The website contains the program guidelines, an example of a covenant, funding amounts and the online application form.
It also features examples of four pre-designed accessory dwelling unit stock plans set to be released to the public for free in October.
Who can live there?
Eligibility for who can live in an accessory dwelling unit that uses county funds is fairly straightforward: they have to work a minimum of 30 hours each week in the county.
While the program places rent caps tailored to median income, this does not mean the occupants have to fall within a certain income range themselves. An exception to the work requirements exists for relatives and retirees.
Additionally, the program’s covenant, which sets these limitations, is transferable between the unit and the resident’s main home. This means a resident could occupy the dwelling unit while renting out their main home to a member of the workforce, which can allow homeowners to downsize without needing to give up their property.
Short-term renting is banned under the covenant, and units must be rented for six consecutive months or longer.
Why build an accessory dwelling unit?
For Summit County resident Peggy Hiller, building an accessory dwelling unit on her property was about providing options.
Hiller and her husband have owned their roughly one-third acre lot in Summit Cove for 25 years. After their children moved out of the house, they began exploring the idea of an accessory unit that could help them achieve multiple goals, including creating an additional revenue source to help pay off their mortgage and providing a space for them to downsize, if they so choose.
“We love Summit County, we love our home in Summit Cove,” Hiller said. “As we’re getting older, we’re just trying to keep our options open.”
The couple officially broke ground on a two-story detached unit in August 2022. They completed construction in June.
The unit consists of a two-car garage with a roughly 1,000-square-foot one-bedroom apartment above. Hiller said she and her husband are looking for a tenant to move in this fall, pledging to rent to a full-time county resident working at least 30 hours.
In a county where home values have continued to climb even amid economic downturns, Hiller said she believes the accessory units are “just a good investment,” adding, “It will help keep Summit Cove a place for local housing going into the future.”
Hiller estimates the total cost of the unit was between $400 and $500 per square foot, which would translate to a range of $400,000 and $500,000.
With average single-family home prices hovering in the millions, and multi-family units approaching $1 million on average, Hiller said “It would be hard to just buy a smaller place in Summit County for the value of building our own.”
Hiller acknowledged that the price to build such a unit will vary depending on what the homeowner desires as well as the ever-changing costs of labor and materials.
The couple had an advantage in the project’s early phase as Hiller’s husband works in the industry. For those starting out on their own, Hiller said it’s crucial to bring on a general contractor.
“That’s probably the very first thing, to figure out what’s possible on your lot,” she said. “A general contractor will help you walk through this and often recommend architects and engineers.”
Having a robust site plan is critical to securing a building permit, Hiller said, adding that it took her between six to eight weeks to receive one from the county.
Timing is always a great unknown when taking on such a project, especially as supply chain issues continue to delay material deliveries. The time of year can also greatly influence demand for labor, Hiller said.
Having begun their project in the fall, Hiller said it was important to have their foundation set and the outside shell of the unit built before winter began. With those aspects complete, it allowed work to continue on the unit’s interior during the snowy months.
While the total project took about nine months, Hiller cautioned, “You can’t always predict how long or quickly it’s going to take.”
Is it worth it?
Ultimately, the decision to take on such a project is contingent on a homeowner’s needs and means. Along with financing, homeowners must contemplate what it will be like to have such a close proximity neighbor and if being a landlord is really right for them.
“It takes a lot of consideration to realize you’re going to be sharing your property with somebody else, and so you really need to be in the right state of mind,” Hiller said. “Don’t make a snap decision, because it is a huge investment.”
While the county’s subsidy program wasn’t in place when Hiller and her husband built their unit, she encouraged residents who are serious about building to look into it, adding, “Anything that can help promote more housing I think is great.”
Along with the new funding, the county is also preparing to release four pre-designed plans for dwelling units that will be available for free. According to Bantam, these designs can help save homeowners between $10,000 to $15,000 that would otherwise be spent on a consultant.
Bantam said those plans should be available by early October.
As the county continues to work towards providing more affordable housing, Bantam said these initiatives will remain an important way to empower residents to be a part of the solution.
“It’s just one of the pieces of solving our housing problem, but I think it’s one of the bigger ones,” he said. “We can’t do it by ourselves. We need the community.”
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