Colorado resort towns still struggle with housing
Aspen, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colo. ” Officials in Vail and the surrounding valley don’t have to look hard to find other communities struggling to offer affordable housing.
Aspen, Steamboat Springs, Telluride and Summit County all have affordable housing deficiencies and are trying a variety of ways to provide more homes and rentals that people who work in the communities can afford.
“The problem takes on a different flavor depending on where it is,” said Shirley Greve, executive director of the San Miguel Regional Housing Authority, which includes the town of Telluride. “I think as other resort regions come along, you try to learn from them.”
Affordable housing in Telluride has been a growing problem for years, Greve said. The town’s ski resort and summer festivals have attracted more and more visitors to the town, and a lot of them decided they wanted to stay, Greve said.
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“That combination has definitely created more of a seasonal urgency (for housing),” Greve said. “Coupled with that you have people that come here and don’t want to go.”
The growth also creates a higher demand for service industry jobs, which strains the affordable housing market, Greve said.
“Pricewise I think it was somewhat of an issue even back in the early 90s, but the number of people that it’s an issue for has definitely grown,” Greve said.
Telluride and the immediate area surrounding it has about 1,100 deed-restricted units, but it’s not enough. A recent demand analysis study said the town was short about 222 affordable units, and could need as many as 887 new affordable units by 2020.
“There’s definitely a shortage,” Greve said.
The wait list for affordable rentals around Telluride has more than 100 people on it. And when an affordable home becomes available, they don’t last long, she said.
“They never even have to get a Realtor involved to sell them,” Greve said. “You can walk into a restaurant or bar and say ‘hey, I got a new job and I have to sell my house’ and there’s five people right there interested.”
Summit County is short about 2,500 affordable housing units, said Jennifer Kermode, executive director of the Summit County Housing Authority.
But Kermode doesn’t call them affordable homes. She prefers “middle class housing.”
“Affordable units tend to carry some negative connotations,” she said. “I’m tired of sitting at meetings and hearing people calling them poor.”
The county’s affordable units are targeted at a family of four making $81,000, Kermode said.
“That’s middle class income anywhere else you go,” she said. “But our housing costs are so out of whack.”
The county’s biggest problem is it doesn’t have the land to provide the homes, she said. About 85 percent of the buildable land in Summit County is already developed.
“Whatever land is left, we have competition for it from private developers who want to build something,” Kermode said.
Which is why the county wants to give incentives to developers that build homes with apartments attached to them. The idea, said Kermode, is to relax some of the building guidelines or reduce building fees in exchange for homes that have an apartment attached to it. The developer would also have to let the county deed-restrict the apartment and agree to rent it to a local worker.
“We’re really big on deed restrictions because we have such a limited chance for getting the units and keeping them,” she said. “We can’t just keep building ” it’s a game of finders keepers.”
Few workers would be living in Aspen today if the town hadn’t started requiring developers to provide some employee housing 30 years ago.
“Any development that goes on, they have to mitigate for potential employees that their development generates,” said Cindy Christensen, operations manager for the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority. “We had very forward-thinking officials.”
Aspen’s goal is to have 60 percent of its employees living in the city and the area immediately outside it. They’re at about 35 percent right now, Christensen said.
“We still have a ways to go,” she said.
In Steamboat Springs, creating enough affordable housing is a recent problem, said Nancy Engelken, the city’s community housing coordinator.
The city adopted rules similar to Aspen’s affordable housing requirements in 2006.
“The impact of affordability didn’t hit this community as soon as it did in Vail,” she said. “We’re one of the new kids on the block.”
Free-market home prices in Steamboat are still well below prices in other mountain communities.
“You can enter an older free-market condo at an initial price point that’s below $300,000,” Engelken said.
Officials are trying to offer more lease-to-own options and downpayment assistance programs in Steamboat, Engelken said.
Land prices in mountain towns make building affordable housing a tough sell to developers, officials said.
“Land prices are exorbitant,” she said. “When you’re starting out at two and a half acres at $3.8 million ” when you start at that point you can’t make it affordable.”
The demand for high-end second homes is partly to blame for the problem, said Melanie Rees, of Rees Consulting, who did a housing study for Eagle County last year and specializes in housing in mountain towns.
“There’s no correlation between wages and cost of housing,” Rees said. “You’ve got wealth coming from outside the area driving them up.”
And although deed-restricted property is often criticized, the more expensive housing gets, the more exceptable they come, Rees said.
Telluride’s geographical location ” boxed in by mountains ” drives land prices up, Greve said.
“The land cost for some of the areas is definitely and issue,” she said. “Even with free land building affordable housing is tough. Construction costs have gone up to a point where the subsidy has to be very high in order to make the project affordable. They can build it but employees couldn’t afford it.”
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