Local business leaders gathered in Breckenridge for a meeting of the minds, in hopes of finding new solutions to the county’s growing workforce housing shortage. Between limited land, rapidly escalating real estate values, and condos changing hands, towns are struggling to create enough affordable housing and employers are struggling to keep staff.
“This really came to a head when we had people, our workforce, living in cars this summer,” Breckenridge Mayor John Warner said. “We’re at a crisis point.”
Laurie Best, a long-range planner with the town, said that even with 800 workforce-restricted units, and more in the works, more work needs to be done.
“We’re going to be challenged just because of the nature of a resort community,” Best said. “We’re definitely not the only community dealing with this.”
With an estimated 1,000 employees commuting into town, and growth only planned to continue over the next 20 years, existing resources are being stretched to their limits. The rising housing prices and limited space also put a strain on businesses needing more employees.
“There’s a growing dissatisfaction with the price of housing,” Best said. “An increased number of people who are really thinking it’s time to leave.”
One potential solution to the problem — building new workforce housing units — is already well underway in the town. Pinewood Village Two, a housing development with 45 units set at $800 to $860 per month, will be ready in just a few months. Lincoln Park, an expansion to the Wellington neighborhood, is close to building out, and the town is working on a partnership with the county to create a middle-income housing project called “Huron Landing.”
Plans for a Denison Placer housing and apartment complex would add more than 90 units. And in the long term, the town plans to add hundreds more units between the McCain housing site and a space north of Colorado Mountain College known as “Block 11.”
On top of that, the county is working with Frisco to set aside 45 acres for the Lake Hill workforce housing project. Some private companies, including Vail Resorts and Beaver Run Resort and conference center, set aside units for employees.
And yet, even with all of these efforts, more housing will be needed by the time of completion.
“The bottom line is, (development) is expensive,” Best said. “If we have the opportunity to create partnerships we definitely want to explore those.”
While Vail Resorts set aside $30,000 for workforce housing, no specific amount has been set as to how much will go to each community. A human resources manager noted the funds were intended to go to capital or land to support new or existing projects.
Jeanne Bistranin, Summit Foundation executive director, also expressed interest in assisting with housing.
“We’d like to be a partner in helping resolve it,” she said.
While the housing conversation has been primarily centered on new construction, businesses suggested new ideas to keep existing housing accessible to workers.
For example, a human resources manager with Beaver Run Resort suggested a new twist to deed-restricted housing: working with homeowner’s associations on master lease agreements in exchange for the service of rehabilitating older buildings, effectively preventing unit prices from continuing to escalate with the market.
“As people retire they sell the unit, but it’s no longer a workforce unit,” Best explained. “It’s really hard to stop the loss of these units.”
Another, more common method would be to purchase large groups of units, and permanently deed restrict them.
With increased competition from VRBOs and vacation rental sites, such as Airbnb, another suggestion brought up multiple times was to incentivize long-term rentals.
“(Homeowners) make so much more money with a short-term rental, with the economy booming like it is right now,” said Peyton Rogers, director of sales with Great Western Lodging.
The difficulty would be finding an incentive that would outweigh the benefits of short-term rentals for local landlords.
In addition, Jennifer Kermode, executive director of the Summit Housing Authority and Tamara Drangstveit, executive director of the Family and Intercultural Resource Center are looking to create a three-tiered master lease program.
“We want to identify families that would be good candidates for a master lease,” Kermode said. “We would manage that tenant so the lease is with us. …That gives the landlord the security or confidence that their unit isn’t being trashed.”
Another suggestion was to levy a sales tax dedicated to housing, on a limited basis, with a built-in sunset clause.
One critical first step will be to renew the most recent Workforce Housing Needs Assessment, which continues just through 2018, in order to get an updated picture of the market.
“This helps inform the direction we go with projects and policy,” Best said.