Summit County workforce housing experiment marks second year
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A housing program to convert short-term rentals into long-term solutions for Summit County’s workforce is nearing its second anniversary. With that milestone will come significant tweaks.
The modified master-leasing program known as the Housing Works Initiative previously partnered the community-focused nonprofit Family & Intercultural Resource Center with the Summit Combined Housing Authority to house locals feeling the county’s housing crunch. A renewable $50,000 grant from The Summit Foundation offered the necessary start-up cash and the two organizations split landlord and tenant enrollment duties.
The housing authority has faced more than seven months of transition as it tried to hire new leadership, finally naming Jason Dietz of Silverthorne as its new executive director on Wednesday. The group’s board — made up of representatives from the county and each of the four major towns — also focused on trimming its functions over that time, making the decision to fully shift Housing Works over to FIRC for at least a year while the agency completes a restructuring.
Meanwhile, the initiative has carried on vetting renters, pairing them with residences that second-home owners volunteer after becoming fed up with vacation services like VRBO and Airbnb. The target was getting 15 units occupied in the first year, and the program will hit that number on the nose later this week with a fresh approach that now brings area small businesses into the fold.
The new idea is for local companies to sponsor a unit, paying the associated fees and guaranteeing rent for the length of the yearlong lease in order to secure lodging for a member of its workforce. Arapahoe Basin Ski Area has signed on as the first test case in what FIRC hopes will grow to three across other businesses in its second year.
“It seems to be a really good fit,” said Tamara Drangstveit, FIRC’s executive director. “We want to make sure the goal of the program, to provide housing to working locals, is maintained. It allows (businesses) to offer support to their employees, and also enables access to a strategy to help resolve the housing crisis.”
Aside from the 15 vacancies being filled in the first year, other initial program successes include locating housing for seven tenants who were either homeless or in imminent danger of becoming so, as well as creating a groundswell of philanthropic interest among landlords to convey their property. Presently Housing Works has units in Silverthorne and in nearby Wildernest, Breckenridge and Dillon Valley, and is negotiating on nine others in those areas, as well as one possibly in Dillon.
Proponents of the initiative also tout it as a cost-effective way of producing additional housing in the county that doesn’t entail the obstacles of construction.
“From a total cost standpoint, the per-unit cost is a lot less than building the units,” said county manager Scott Vargo, who is also a member of the housing authority board. “But there are ongoing costs annually, and those grow as the number of units also grow.”
FIRC also received smaller, one-time grants from Bank of the West and the Colorado Springs-based El Pomar Foundation to get Housing Works off the ground. The expanding administrative costs — upwards of $70,000 above The Summit Foundation grant with the target of 15-plus more units in the second year — in addition to losing a founding partner in the housing authority for at least one funding cycle are challenges FIRC will note at its upcoming grant renewal presentation for The Summit Foundation.
The program has the full support from of Summit’s three-member Board of County Commissioners, though, and Breckenridge town manager Rick Holman — on the housing authority board as well — is another strong advocate. By the end of second year, FIRC hopes to completely transition Housing Works out of its pilot phase and make it a financially self-sufficient program that also continues to progress in total participation.
“Part of what makes the program work is the right tenants at the right time in the right place to match the right units — beds, location, rental amount, all of those different things,” said Drangstveit. “So it is a bit of a matching game. And we’re still trying to figure everything out. But it has been very successful, largely from the community support for exploring this new model for attaining workforce housing, which is exciting.”
Editor’s note: FIRC executive director Tamara Drangstveit is also a member of the Summit Daily News’ editorial board.
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