Summit Daily News editorial: Who knew workforce housing could be so complicated?
April 28, 2017
To paraphrase our commander in chief, who knew workforce housing could be so complicated?
Over the past few weeks, several efforts to address Summit County's dire housing crisis have met with unexpected friction: Lake Hill, an ambitious 436-unit project on Dill Dam Road, isn't moving ahead as quickly as expected; a Keystone Resort employee-housing development has stalled in negotiations, and the Summit Combined Housing Authority failed to hire a new leader because the finalist couldn't find a place to live.
Taking it slow, whether intentionally or not, might not be the worst-case scenario, however. Summit County has been a model for other mountain communities when it comes to taking the home shortage head on. And with a new revenue stream approved by voters in November — one that will generate as much as $80 million for housing development over the next 10 years — it's important that we get these taxpayer-funded endeavors right.
The county must build upwards of 1,700 new units by 2020 just to keep up with the demand. However, throwing mere bricks and mortar at the problem isn't enough. Workforce-housing development must proceed with caution and a targeted, holistic strategy to be truly effective.
In the case of Lake Hill, Frisco faces the prospect of having 1,000 new residents placed at its front door. Pulling back to further grapple with the infrastructural and social strains of that growth is a smart move. Frisco town officials have good reason to worry. How will we get water plumbed in and waste plumbed out? Where will all those new children go to school? Will that many new residents snarl traffic at the intersection between Highway 9, Dillon Dam Road, Interstate 70 and Lusher Court? We need better answers to those questions before we break ground.
Lake Hill could be a game-changer for Summit's working families, but we have only one chance to get it right. County Commissioner Thomas Davidson sees this clearly.
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"We need to find out if we can even develop anything on Lake Hill before doing some transportation improvement," he said earlier this month. "We can't make mistakes on something like this. I don't think the people of Summit County would ever forgive us if we really screwed up an intersection because of a housing project."
Vail Resorts' plan to build a 196-unit employee housing complex in Keystone is a necessary step in addressing our workforce woes, but it too requires a thoroughly vetted assessment of its total effect on the community. A proposed child care center for residents there is a good step in that direction. However, county government officials are wise to continue to demand closer scrutiny of Wintergreen's potential burden on traffic, parking and existing neighborhoods. We're hopeful that these issues will soon be worked out.
However, it is important to remember that we can't build our way out of the problem, as one former housing official once said. We urge county and town governments — as they construct sprawling new housing projects — to consider options like the Housing Works Initiative. The program is a partnership between Family & Intercultural Resource Center, the Summit Combined Housing Authority and The Summit Foundation. Its goal is to work with area landlords to transition a number of short-term rentals into long-term options for families working in the county. That means it's making use of existing housing. Considering our total home vacancy rate throughout the year is more than 60 percent — not to mention the lack of remaining developable land — that's a necessary part of the solution.
The Summit Daily editorial board consists of editor Ben Trollinger, publisher Meg Boyer, a reporter and three citizen members: Ken Gansmann, Tamara Drangstveit and Rick Hague.