Opinion | Susan Knopf: Can we make room?

I was so excited to read that Colorado Mountain College will be adding more housing to its campus. Then I read the housing will accommodate just 48 people in 36 units.

So I called vice president and campus dean David Askeland to ask why.

He told me, if you don’t have a waiting list, it’s hard to measure the demand for student housing. He told me originally they wanted to build 40 units, but there is a limit to funding.

Three other CMC campuses are also adding housing: Edwards, Steamboat Springs and Spring Valley. Total budget for the four projects is about $40 million

I asked if he talked to any other groups in town, like the county commissioners. He says he’s been talking to a lot of county stakeholders for more than a year.

I was surprised. For the record, a 2020 county study demonstrated we are short about 2,400 housing units. I bet a good number of those people are students.

At the same time, Askeland commented that the typical CMC student is starting to find spending two to five years up here taking classes, enjoying our mountain sports and working a bit, just doesn’t pencil financially. Askeland pointed out even if a CMC student could get $25 per hour and manage to work 30 hours per week, it’s still tough to afford housing.

Askeland says the college has been renting existing studios and one bedrooms for $1,100 to $1,400. The college hopes the new units will be priced similarly.

CMC expects to have shovels in the ground this summer. This project is probably too far along to make changes. But there is a phase 2 — same building, second verse. It’s more economical that way. But what if it wasn’t the same building?

What if we finally get our arms wrapped around the density we need to meet the demand we have? The CMC Breckenridge campus is well-located north of Breckenridge. That housing could serve more than students. What about students who have families? We can do more.

Some of the new housing money pending in the legislature is supposed to go toward scrubbing building codes to remove impediments and encourage more affordable housing. One impediment is the height limit in Summit County. And then there’s the absurd frequent comment that the proposed architectural style fits in the community. You what doesn’t fit? Not having enough housing for the people we need to run this community.

In February, both commissioners Tamara Pogue and Elisabeth Lawrence told me that increasing density appeared inevitable if we are going to meet the housing needs of our local workers.

I still like Bruce Butler’s concept of housing that looks more like a cruise ship cabin, with shared kitchen and social spaces for residents. What if we add a floor of co-living and see what happens? My son lived in a private quad at University of Colorado – Boulder: four small ensuites with baths and one shared kitchen/living space. It wasn’t ideal. But it was reasonable and fit his budget.

What if our tax funds, collected to create housing, were paired with CMC dollars to make a bigger, better project that could serve more Summit County workers and students?

These cross-agency projects are not new. Wildlife overpasses and underpasses were built on Highway 9 in northern Summit and Grand counties. The project was made possible by a wide range of stakeholders: private individuals and corporations, non-profits, state, and national governmental agencies. We are stronger together.

The new housing money running through the legislature is not a done deal yet, but it’s supposed to allow for just this sort of project, linking nonprofits and government in a shared goal: let’s house our people.

A couple of projects will finish up in the next two years providing about 100 workforce housing units, County Commissioner Tamara Pogue told me for a February column. Other projects require infrastructure improvements, and are years down the line. That’s still more than 2,000 units shy of demand identified two years ago.

Local companies continue to struggle to find workers. Local workers continue to struggle to find housing.

C’mon folks. Let’s work together. We can do this. We can house people. But we must increase density and go higher.

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