Opinion | Linda Harmon: Show me the money

Since Summit County is driven by tourism dollars, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could greatly improve the affordable housing situation by capitalizing on the money tourists spend? Summit County registered voters could make that happen in November by passing Referred Measure 6B.

In 2016, Summit County approved the Summit Combined Housing Authority 5A measure, which provided a temporary sales tax of 0.6% for 10 years. Approving this measure provided about $47 million for affordable housing projects throughout the county since 2017. This new ballot referendum is asking county voters to extend the 0.6% for another 20 years, meaning the tax would expire in 2047.

Why is this important for our current affordable housing crisis? The simple answer is we need the money now. Lenders are much more likely to lend money to the jurisdictions that make up the Summit Combined Housing Authority if there is a longer commitment from the voters.

Those of you who have applied for a home loan know that the more income you have and the longer you’ve had your source of income, the more likely you are to get the loan. The same is true for the town and county governments in Summit County. The Housing Authority knows that Summit County is currently in a housing crisis, and without the ability to access funds for more affordable housing now, things will only get worse.

The need for more affordable housing is immediate. If we can’t find a way to house those who support our tourism economy, this money-making mechanism for Summit County will slowly stop providing the level of amenities tourists expect. We are already seeing this as restaurants reduce hours and limit the number of customers due to short staffing. Many of these valuable workers do not make enough money to put roofs over their heads, let alone purchase properties.

So the Housing Authority, the mission of which is to “help those who define our community attain a safe, long-term housing solution and build a community in which to thrive,” is just doing its job.

Brilliantly, the Housing Authority — the board of which includes representatives from the town governments as well as the Summit County government — developed ballot Measure 6B to ensure we can address the issue now. This solution will work, and it will not increase taxes; it simply keeps one of our current taxes in place for another 20 years. The truly beautiful part of this idea is a large portion of the money is generated from sales taxes collected from tourists who do not live full time in Summit County.

You may be asking why we need to extend this by 20 years. Mark Rehm, a veteran chief financial officer and chief executive officer in the land development and homebuilding industry said, “financial institutions are more likely to fund projects when they know there is a guaranteed flow of strong income, and voter-approved referendums are one of the best guarantees of ongoing financial flow.”

Twenty years is an important number. This is the number needed to give the towns and county governments the ability to potentially bond against future taxes and allow them to fund projects now and in the next few years.

My conservative counterpart recently wrote that the answer is to not worry about affordable housing. Since Summit is a world-class tourist destination, if you can’t afford to live here, find another place to live. This is a totally ridiculous philosophy. I’m sure those who agree with this way of thinking expect excellent service when they go out to dinner. Or they relish having their houses cleaned by cleaning people. If we don’t provide affordable housing to our tourism industry workers, the lifestyle these pompous conservatives love bragging about will go away — along with the tourists who spend ample money to be in a high-service destination.

Bottom line, passing 6B is the only way to provide funding now for an overwhelming need in our county without feeling an additional strain on our pocketbooks. It also gives our tourists an opportunity to be a part of the solution. Let’s say “show me the money” by voting “yes” on this reasonable and workable approach when we need it the most.

Linda Harmon

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