Summit County, towns back to voters for 5A construction fund

Kevin Fixler
This November, Summit County, in partnership with its area towns, is asking voters to approve measure 5A, a sales tax to build workforce housing over the next 10 years. Past projects include the 26 apartments on at the 1.7-acre lot located on County Road 450 in Breckenridge, called Huron Landing.
Elise Reuter / Summit Daily file photo |

The people who work in Summit County should also be able to afford to live here, too.

That’s the premise of question 5A on this November’s ballot, according to its proponents. If approved, the measure would add a small sales tax to all purchases made within the county, with the exception of groceries per state law, to supply a temporary, 10-year fund for development of new homes for the region’s workforce. The extra fee would begin in 2017.

“If we don’t have additional funds to work with for construction of projects, people who work here won’t be able to afford to live here anymore,” said County Commissioner Thomas Davidson. “That would be a tragedy in terms of the fabric of our community and what makes this place special.”

The new tax asks for 6 cents for every $10 spent in the hopes of securing an estimated $7-to-$8 million annually for a grand total of between $75 and $80 million over a decade’s time. That purse would be divided up proportionally each year among the county and the area towns based on where the purchases were made.

Each of the jurisdictions would then be able to disburse their piece of the pie as it chooses toward getting more housing built. It is the county’s hope, however, that shared decision-making to address the ongoing housing crisis will prompt collaborative spending of some of the yearly budget to enable the greatest good and biggest impact.

Presently, Summit County receives a small portion of money from the 1A measure passed in 2008 for open space acquisitions that is dedicated to buying land for future workforce housing. (This is not to be confused with the 1A measure approved by voters in 2014 for emergency response, 911 dispatch and water quality improvements.) This money was made up of reserves from a prior open space fund that went toward the purchase of the Lake Hill property from the U.S. Forest Service for $1.75 million.

In addition, the current 5A fund — a measure from 2006 renewed by voters last November — also nets approximately $1.4 million for housing each year. Between $400,000 and $500,000 of that goes toward the Summit Combined Housing Authority’s annual operating budget, with the rest spread across the county and its municipalities.

“You’re not going to get significant projects built with only that amount of funding,” said Davidson. “Between those (1A and 5A) funds, the county certainly doesn’t have the kind of funding on an annual or ongoing basis to be able to deliver the kind of housing that we need based upon that needs assessment.”

This recent study to update the county’s housing needs stated upwards of 1,700 new units will need to be built by the end of 2020 in order to keep up with growing demand. Several of the municipalities have been active in obtaining land and/or building affordable, deed-restricted properties for both the rental and for-sale open market since the housing analysis was previously updated back in 2013.

The county and the majority of the towns already own parcels of land to build such housing developments, but lack the money to begin potential projects. Which is where 5A comes into play, to install the necessary infrastructure including water, sewer, power and roads, as well as put up vertical construction of actual houses, condos or multi-family apartment complexes.

“Good progress has been made,” added Davidson, “but more now than ever do we need to get some additional units built over this next 10-year period.”

Local supporters for the passage of 5A include The Summit Foundation, the Family & Intercultural Resource Center and Breckenridge Grand Vacations. Meanwhile, opponents of 5A don’t see straightening out the local housing conundrum as so black and white as a “yes” or “no” vote on the ballot question.

“I’m not sure the county is spending its money well enough for another proposition, another increase in taxes,” said Jonathan Lerner, Independent candidate for county commissioner District 2. “My philosophy is smaller government. And I don’t believe the government should be in the housing business.”

Instead of raising taxes, Lerner suggests attempting to find alternative solutions to resolving the housing crisis. One of his ideas to meet expanding demand, is to further reduce the zoning regulations for creating more accessory units in existing residential areas rather than all of the additional construction.

For Tamara Drangstveit, executive director of the FIRC, though, it remains a matter of supply and demand.

“If there’s not enough supply, then landlords — and I understand why they do this — are going to charge more,” explained Drangstveit, who has, in some cases, seen rents double for needy families from one year to the next. “We need more supply so that that can’t continue to happen.”

Between the rising housing prices, health insurance increases and hikes in childcare costs, local tenants are being forced to choose nontraditional living situations that can be detrimental to the well being of their children. By Drangstveit’s estimation, not long down the road the school district gets involved based on swelling behavioral-health issues, and everything else, she said, starts to fall apart.

“This isn’t just a low-income issue,” added Drangstveit, who also acts as the treasurer of the 5A campaign. “We’re seeing folks with an income level of $80,000 or $90,000 who can’t find housing. It’s just the downward spiral that starts fundamentally with housing.”


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