Summit County’s average income rose in 2022

Local officials price affordable housing using the area median income, a number that some worry isn’t reliable

Summit County officials use the area median income to determine qualifications for workforce housing like the Village at Wintergreen Apartments, pictured here in Keystone.
Jason Connolly/Summit Daily News archive

The average income for Summit County residents rose slightly in 2022, according to new area median income numbers released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Each year the department uses Census information and other federal data to calculate average incomes for the communities across the country. Often, the numbers, which are called the area median income, are used by local government officials and housing developers to determine the pricing of rental and for-sale units.

In Summit County, the area median income plays a pivotal role in local efforts to provide more affordable housing. Most recently, the Summit County commissioners used the numbers to inform proposed changes to the housing code with the goal of providing more affordable housing to a wider income range.

The 2022 area median income numbers, which were released on April 22, show that the average income for a four-person household is $99,800. In 2021, that number was slightly lower at $96,100, according to the Summit Combined Housing Authority.

The slight change in area median income could mean good news for Summit County locals who don’t fall into the low-income bracket but are looking for cheaper housing, said Jack Wilkinson, a program manager with the housing authority.

“The Housing Authority and the jurisdictions up here in Summit County will use those incomes to price our deed-restricted products,” Wilkinson said. “With that in mind, it does have a direct correlation to affordability.”

Local jurisdictions and housing developers place income limitations on deed-restricted and affordable units using the area median income as a benchmark.

For example, in order for a household to qualify for the Village at Wintergreen Apartments in Keystone would-be tenants must make anywhere from 30% to 60% of the area median income. That number varies depending on the size of a household. A single person would have to make between $22,000 and $43,980 to qualify, while a household of four must make between $31,500 and $59,880.

Local governments use the numbers to gauge income qualifications for programs outside of housing as well. For example, the Breckenridge government requires that people make less than 180% of the area median income to participate in the Child Care Tuition Assistance program.

Despite the fact that it influences many local decisions, the area median income isn’t always a reliable reflection of local income levels, Wilkinson said.

The main issue with the number is that the government uses data that is around eight years old to calculate how cost of living impacts average income. That means the numbers don’t account for inflation, which plays a major role in the price of goods and how much people actually take home.

On top of that, the American Community Survey, which the U.S. Census Bureau uses to gather information on population and housing, is not considered reliable by data scientists.

“It’s pretty well known that drawing from American Community Survey data in a non-metropolitan area is problematic because the margins of error are very high,” Wilkinson said. “They’re still considered acceptable by the Census Bureau, but in other statistical scenarios it’s considered not ideal. It would be better if we had more survey responses, but because we’re a rural community, we just don’t have that.”

The Department of Housing and Urban Development also bases its calculations for area median income on families instead of individuals, which mean its often not an accurate determination of what an individual person can afford in rent, Summit County Senior Planner Jessica Potter said at a county commissioner meeting on Tuesday, April 26.

According to the 2022 area median income numbers, the average individual earns $67,300. However, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs estimates that the average wage earner in Summit County makes $50,596.

“Once you start to extrapolate down on the rental side for one person … a little bit is lost in that translation,” Housing Director Jason Dietz said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.