Opinion | Susan Knopf: What’s working for housing? | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Susan Knopf: What’s working for housing?

Housing is the top of conversation for many folks here in Summit County. County officials are working on it, but it’s not fast enough to meet needs.

Then again, it’s not the kind of issue that gets solved quickly.

You might find some answers at a meeting at Summit County Senior and Community Center at 11 a.m. Monday, Feb. 27. State officials, including people from Gov. Jared Polis’ office will be here to discuss “County 101: Housing the Missing Middle.”

In December, the Board of County Commissioners passed a budget allocating $15 million to affordable housing investments. An official handout listed the projects:

  • $4.1 million — U.S. Forest Service Housing project and roundabout, a partnership with Dillon
  • $3 million — Centura Health housing partnership
  • $2.5 million — housing helps deed restrictions
  • $700,000 — Wintergreen II development
  • $500,000 — conversion of short-term rentals to long-term rentals incentive program
  • $500,000 — accessory dwelling unit program
  • $400,000 — Lake Hill entitlements
  • Unnamed amount for the justice center parcel development

Eili Wright describes a lot of these projects in her Summit Daily article from last fall.

You know which project was crossed off the above list? A $6 million dollar proposed partnership with Breckenridge for housing on the Colorado Mountain College campus.

I spoke with David Askeland, Campus Dean about the housing project about a year ago. I suggested it could be bigger. I suggested he work with other government partners.

A 2020 county study projected this year we would experience a shortfall of 2,600 rental units. Askeland’s CMC parcel is the single best piece of flat land in the county, already served by utilities and transit. Why can’t local and state government partner on that piece of land?

I’ve been a ski instructor for the past 10 years. So I’m not thinking about the missing middle. We don’t have adequate housing for the people who directly serve our visitors. Several projects on the above list could potentially address that issue.

This issue is not new. I graduated college in the late ‘70s. On my last college spring break ski trip I was hanging with some local workers. I looked at how many people were packed into an apartment, and decided not to come up for a ski job.  I got a TV news job instead.

I have a girlfriend who did come out during that era. She had friends who lived up French Gulch in old miner’s cabins, and converted school buses with no electricity or running water. Luxury homes and condos are there now.

Let’s stop pretending our issue is part of the larger housing crisis. This issue has been here for decades. Low-paying frontline jobs, with sketchy hourly commitments from employers and rents that leave workers’ pockets empty. 

We can and must do better. The success of our recreational industry depends on what we do next.

Missing middle? I think a lot of middle-aged people working for the county and in local industry are thinking about their peers.

I know a number of local doctors left town because Centura wouldn’t pay a competitive wage, and they couldn’t afford appropriate housing for their growing families. Each one left the area to get a better paying contract in a community that had lower priced housing.

We are a great community offering a great lifestyle, but we must pay people living wages that are competitive in a national market, and we must offer housing that workers can afford.

The county housing department has a five strategies to address the issue. The above list fits into the categories below. County efforts are being echoed in the towns.

  • New housing development
  • Preservation/utilization of existing housing stock
  • Adaptive reuse
  • Housing policy and code
  • Land acquisitions/banking

You can see when you compare the lists the biggest money is allocated to new housing development. You also see accessory dwelling units have received special attention in code revision and financial incentives. I have a friend who converted her short-term rental, thanks to the incentives offered by the county to convert to long-term workforce housing. So the strategies are working. It’s just that the problem is getting bigger every season.

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