Opinion | Tony Jones: It will take all of us to find a solution to affordable housing

Recent articles in the Summit Daily News showed the importance of tourism and the short-term rental industry to Summit County’s economy. One article discussed the downturn in business in the county over this past summer in comparison to the summers of 2021 and 2019. There were several reasons given for that downturn, including a wet summer, high gas prices and inflation, but this is also suggestive of the fragility of our economy. Inflation pressures put the squeeze on local businesses and tourists alike and suddenly we’re going from reading about the difficulty of finding workers to articles about staff reductions and businesses cutting hours

Another article that caught my eye pointed out that visitors to Summit County prefer short-term rentals over hotels. I’m sure there are many factors for that, but most importantly I think it shows a paradigm shift occurring in the travel and hospitality industry. That shift is probably irreversible from a consumer preference perspective, as companies like Airbnb become to the tourist industry what Uber has become to the transportation industry.

When considering these issues, we should tread lightly with the short-term rental industry. The downstream economic effects of it help underwrite our tourism-based economy, an economy that is vulnerable to headwinds like climate and inflation. Certainly we need to ensure that the industry pays its way, including through regulatory fees and laws that ensure they’re adhering to good neighbor guidelines, but locals and government officials need to take care in treating the industry as both the cause of, and solution to, the lack of affordable housing in Summit County. Fees and caps on the industry are reasonable to a point, but they should only be considered one of several tools in the toolbox to address housing problems. 

While the short-term rental industry must do its share to help with this problem, there are other stakeholders who should also be contributing to solutions. In fact, pretty much everyone who lives or does business in Summit County should be contributing to the solution in one way or another. We all enjoy the benefits of this tourism-based economy when it’s doing well and as such should all help to build a sustainable framework to address our housing needs. In that regard, there are hopeful signs for the future of affordable housing in Summit County, a future in which all stakeholders contribute to solutions equitably.

Resorts draw many of our visitors to the county and reap windfall profits in the process. The attraction of these resorts contributes to housing shortages as they bring tourists to town who’ll need a place to stay. Remember, they prefer short-term rentals. The resorts also require workers, who themselves have housing needs that it is in everyone’s best interest to meet. It is a good sign that Breckenridge Grand Vacations is making an investment that will eventually result in up to 200 bedrooms for its workers. This is an example of a business taking responsibility for its own workforce and not leaving it to the surrounding community to take up the slack. Other resort-related businesses in the county should follow this example and put more effort into providing housing for their employees.

Another way in which stakeholders in Summit County (again, all of us) can contribute to a solution for affordable housing is to vote for Proposition 123 in November. This proposition would dedicate a percentage of Colorado state income tax revenue to affordable housing issues, including through first-homebuyer assistance and financing for low- and middle-income multifamily rental units. Additionally, the bill de-TABORs this funding to ensure a consistent stream of resources. Since it is based on income tax collection, the funding is coming from taxes already paid and does not increase taxes or create new taxes.  

By voting for Proposition 123, stakeholders in Summit County can contribute to a solution for the affordable housing crisis in the county. And once the proposition passes, local governments must commit to increasing affordable housing in their jurisdiction by three percent annually and fast tracking the approval process for affordable housing projects. November presents an opportunity for all Summit County stakeholders to cast a vote to address affordable housing and become part of the solution for tackling this in our county and statewide.

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