Summit County workforce housing initiative already seeing results
August 15, 2016
A new housing plan to conjure up more long-term rentals has launched in Summit County, and, already, organizers are seeing results.
The Housing Works Initiative — created through a partnership between the Family & Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC) and the Summit Combined Housing Authority and made possible by a principal donation from The Summit Foundation — hopes to covert 15 short-term rentals into more permanent housing options by next April. Already, this modified master-lease program has two county properties occupied, with five more in line for the same soon.
"This is certainly still a pilot project," said Tamara Drangstveit, FIRC's executive director, "but I definitely think, in the early stages, it's showing potential as another tool that this community can use to try and mitigate the housing crisis. From a perspective of adding to our housing stock in Summit County, the initial results of the program look really promising. We're bringing (short-term rentals) back onto the long-term market, which was the design of the program."
Following some initial outreach to human-resources departments and through social media, upwards of 100 local families have called the FIRC about becoming tenants. The Housing Authority estimates approximately 30 possible landlords have expressed interest from throughout the county, which is a greater amount of interest at this stage of the program than originally expected.
“We’re really not going to build our way out of it, so we need to find little tools in our tool chest that can help in smaller ways that still address the problem.”Jennifer Kermodeexecutive director Summit Combined Housing Authority
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"Our whole goal is to add more beds to the workforce housing," explained Misty McMillian, the housing authority's real estate services program director. "The owners have been very empathetic to the issue, and they want to help. I've been pleasantly overwhelmed with that response. People do care."
As part of the three-year, $50,000 annual grant from The Summit Foundation, both the FIRC and the housing authority are each applying $20,000 to pay staff to take inquiries from prospective tenants and landlords, respectively. McMillian was recently hired as the housing authority's point person for the initiative but was also the first property owner to step forward and volunteer a home, as well.
"It can be intimidating trying to be a landlord," she said of the management side of these housing agreements. "Having them find really good people and taking care of it for me (made sense)."
The workforce housing needs in the county seemingly only continue to rise. All the while, increasing numbers of rentals in Summit sit vacant as second homes, have transitioned into short-term or vacation options via AirBnB, VRBO and other similar services or have been taken off the leasing market altogether.
"Our problem is so big we need a couple thousand units to maybe address and keep up with demand," said housing authority executive director Jennifer Kermode. "We're really not going to build our way out of it, so we need to find little tools in our tool chest that can help in smaller ways that still address the problem."
Enter Housing Works, which aspires to match Summit families working with household incomes of between $40,000 and $100,000 and property owners who are either tired of the possible headaches of short-term market or want to offer their second home for long-term rental for the first time. At least initially, the target group of employees are those who are essential to making the community function, including teachers, key medical personnel and those who run local businesses.
"The impact will certainly help businesses in being able to attract and retain quality employees," said Kermode.
The ideal landlord candidates, on the other hand, are those who own properties that would meet the needs of a member of the local workforce. Those include everything from a studio to a two- or three-bedroom setup.
Anything bigger or more extravagant than these midsize options is often outside the price range of those eligible for this income-qualified program. The hope, though, is it brings to an end the need for some difficult conversations between the housing authority and those future employees who call looking about what might presently be available in the county.
"It gets very discouraging to say to people, 'OK, go to work, find somebody you like and, if they have something with a roof over their head, see if you can rent a couch or a closet or a floor space,'" Kermode added. "It would be really nice if we could eventually move away from that type of scenario."
With approaching seven rentals now available in Summit through the housing initiative and a handful of others also in the works, hitting 15 by mid-2017 in route to that same number of new agreements each consecutive year is appearing viable.
"We should have no problem exceeding that number," said Drangstveit. "And we won't stop just because we get to 15; we'll continue to try and get as many units as we possibly can. We recognize that the crisis is such that whatever we can possibly do, we want to do. We're putting as many people into homes as we can."
For more information about how to become involved with the Housing Works Initiative, or to review the units currently available, visit: http://www.summitfirc.org/properties.