Workforce housing incentive program risks running out of funds for this year unless changes are made, Summit County officials say

Housing Helps subsidizes homeowners, buyers to convert units to deed-restricted homes

Housing developments in the Wildernest area are pictured Jan. 2, 2020. A county initiative to incentivize homeowners and buyers to convert their properties to deed-restricted homes risks running out of funds this year due to demand and high home values. County officials have proposed limiting the program to maintain its budget.
Liz Copan/Summit Daily News archive

A Summit County government program aimed at incentivizing the creation of more deed-restricted homes could soon run out of money if county officials don’t temporarily narrow the program’s eligibility. 

Known as Housing Helps, the program, established in 2019, provides subsidies to market-rate homeowners or those intending to purchase a home in exchange for them placing a deed-restriction on their property. Under a deed restriction, only residents who meet certain employment criteria can live in the home, an effort meant to “maintain and preserve the county’s existing housing stock for the Summit County workforce,” according to the program’s description

Unlike other deed-restricted programs, the county’s Housing Helps does not require occupants to meet certain income requirements nor does it limit how much that home can sell for, allowing workforce residents to build equity. 

“Housing Helps was meant to be the transitory between full deed-restriction and market rate,” said county Housing Director Jason Dietz.

County commissioners have funded the incentive using just county revenue to the tune of $1 million to $2.5 million per year, but they now risk running out of funds for this year’s program if changes are not made soon, Dietz said. 

“We have a lot of interest from existing owners, so much so that we will easily surpass our budget in the next couple months,” Dietz said, adding the 2023 program budget is $2.5 million. 

The county has been offering subsidies of 10% to 15% of the current value of a property with recipients able to use the funds for down payments, home repairs, special assessments or “any other purpose,” according to the program description. The program pays slightly more, up to 19%, for homes in the Upper Blue Basin, a cost that it splits with the town of Breckenridge. 

Current interested homeowners have values exceeding $1 million dollars, Dietz said, meaning the program would be providing subsidies of between $100,000 and $150,000, which is the cap for the program, according to Dietz. 

Asked what’s driving the demand for the program, Dietz said one factor could be the county’s recently-passed package of regulations on short-term rental properties which are aimed at reducing the number of rental units in the coming years. 

Dietz said interest in the program did pick up following commissioners’ approval of the regulations, adding that homeowners who may not see a future short-term renting could be inclined to apply for the program to use those funds and “reinvest it somewhere else.”

To maximize the program’s existing budget, Dietz proposed changes such as reducing the subsidy to 5% of the home’s value or focusing more on buyers over homeowners. 

Commissioner Elizabeth Lawrence said “the cost of living is so bad right now” that this provides options for homeowners but suggested the program should shift its focus solely to buyers for the coming months in a bid to sustain the program’s budget and create more new deed-restricted units. 

“We could focus Housing Helps for a period of time on buyers only and then if there’s still additional funds at the end of the year, we could open it up to a more expansive program,” Dietz said. “But if we keep it as it is and how we have been doing it for the last several years, we’ll be out of money by June.”

Commissioner Josh Blanchard said he had some concerns given that the buying season for county homes is in the summer and into fall, to which Dietz said finding a solution would help ensure funds will still be available for the buying season. Commissioners ultimately signaled support for temporarily narrowing the program to buyers.

“We have to prioritize new homebuyers,” said Commissioner Tamara Pogue.

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