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Summit County, towns discuss emergency declaration as affordable housing shortage intensifies

New housing units in the Smith Ranch neighborhood in Silverthorne are under construction Monday, May 31. Summit County municipalities are considering emergency declarations related to housing.
Photo by Sawyer D'Argonne / sdargonne@summitdaily.com

Summit County and local towns are considering an emergency declaration to help address the local affordable housing shortage and emphasize the increasingly dire circumstances of the issue to state and federal partners.

Commissioner Tamara Pogue said the county is already drafting language for a declaration and is hoping to make the move in conjunction with local towns.

“I’ve been working on housing in Summit County for 15 years, and this is far and away the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said Pogue, the former executive director of the Family & Intercultural Resource Center. “I think it actually is connected to things that happened in our community during the pandemic. We know that a lot of folks moved into our community full time. … I think that has significantly impacted our housing stock, and has contributed to the tightness in the market and the availability of workforce housing that we currently don’t have.

“So I think we have to call it what it is. … This isn’t a new problem for us. But it is significantly worse than it’s ever been. Prices are higher, availability is lower, and there are more people living here.”

According to the most recent Summit County Housing Needs Update published in March 2020, there is a countywide gross gap of more than 1,200 housing units, a number that’s expected to more than double by 2023. Officials said the issue has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which spurred an exodus of seasonal workers who were later priced out by a record-breaking year in the real estate market as more remote workers and second-home owners took up residence.

Frisco Mayor Hunter Mortensen said despite Frisco’s best efforts in recent years to combat the lack of affordable housing for members of the town’s workforce, the problem has persisted to the point where it’s become a “real and dangerous threat to our way of life in Frisco.”

Mortensen said he doesn’t blame the newcomers — Frisco is a great place to live — but the housing shortage has created an overly competitive landscape were the town and local businesses are pitted against each other for employees. Given the government’s reliance on local businesses to succeed, the situation is far from ideal.

“We can’t get any bigger,” Mortensen said. “We’ve built to our outer limits. Our ability to get more units is extremely limited by that, and that’s part of what’s facilitating this push for a declaration and looking at this as an emergency. I think seeing that then creates the issue of how do we get from 60% second-home owners and bring that number down, get some more rental units … get more real estate that forever was where people lived and now are getting squeezed out by the folks who are coming in and can work a really high paying job remotely.

“That then affects all of our local businesses, because we are losing that workforce. Right now, it’s set us up in a position where all of the towns are competing with all of our businesses for workers. And that’s a terrible setup to be in as a community because the town doesn’t exist without successful businesses.”

Graphic by Taylor Sienkiewicz / tsienkiewicz@summitdaily.com

Breckenridge is also supportive of an emergency declaration or anything that will help with the current housing situation, according to Breckenridge Town Council member Dick Carleton.

“We’re going to assess the best way to do it, whether it’s individually or together (with other governments),” Carleton said. “But we’re certainly supportive. We’re working really hard with housing, and we want to do anything that may help with funding or to get some support from the state or the feds.”

Towns have developed programs over recent years to help keep the workforce in the county, such as the Housing Helps programs developed by Breckenridge and Frisco that pay new or existing property owners to place deed restrictions on their units. But the initiatives may have been too little too late.

“We lost the race, and the buying power of people coming to town became way more powerful than we could keep up with,” Mortensen said.

While areas like Frisco are out of land to develop, building more housing is still a key tactic for other towns like Silverthorne. Town Manager Ryan Hyland said the town is in conversations with contractors to bring more rental units to the Smith Ranch area and the Fourth Street North development that would target specific community members based on income.

As the county and other towns prepare for an emergency declaration, Silverthorne is expected to pursue other options, Hyland said. He noted that the Silverthorne Town Council could consider other avenues to further bring the issue to light, such as a proclamation that would stop short of declaring a formal emergency. But the town hasn’t downplayed the housing issues that have developed of late.

“(Silverthorne) used to be a bit more affordable than some of the other areas,” Hyland said. “It’s just caught up really quickly. Willowbrook is the type of neighborhood that historically we would look at as something a lot of locals were considering — maybe a first home is something that would be possible. And we’re seeing prices at $800,000 and up now. While it’s not maybe at the same level as it would be in Breckenridge, it’s still really out of touch. …

“There could be at least a couple hundred rental units that we could bring online … but the challenge is you’re a couple years away from getting folks into units. So while we’re excited about those opportunities, they’re not anything that’s immediate.”

The entrance to Smith Ranch in Silverthorne is pictured May 14, 2020. The Silverthorne Town Council recently gave the green light to Phase 5 of the workforce housing neighborhood.
Photo by Liz Copan / Summit Daily archives

It’s also unclear if Dillon will join in the declaration. Mayor Carolyn Skowyra said the Dillon Town Council hasn’t formally broached the topic, but council members do intend to have the conversation at some point. Skowyra spoke for herself, saying that she was disinclined to make any sort of declaration unless it would lead to an actionable response.

“It makes all the sense in the world if it helps us to an end product that helps the situation,” Skowyra said. “If we’re not going to be taking any measurable action, I’m not sure it’s a wise use of an emergency declaration. But we’re going to talk about it.”

Officials planning to move forward with an emergency declaration are hoping that it will bring more people to the table to find solutions, including short-term rental owners who might be swayed to try long-term renting once the impacts of the workforce shortage begin to manifest this summer or business owners who might work with developers to build more housing for their own employees.

Local leaders also hope the declaration would better highlight the need for state and federal support to address the issue. State Rep. Julie McCluskie, who serves Summit County and the rest of Colorado’s District 61, said housing solutions have become a top priority for legislators at the Capitol. McCluskie is a sponsor of House Bill 21-1271, a bill meant to remove barriers and provide incentives for the development of affordable housing by local governments.

If passed, the bill would allocate $13 million — potentially up to $48 million if an amendment to the bill is passed — to create grant programs for governments that adopt policies and regulations that promote affordable housing development.

But the bigger boon will come from $3.8 billion in federal stimulus money coming to Colorado as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. McCluskie said the state is planning to set aside between $400 million and $500 million to invest in housing initiatives throughout the state. There’s no set plan for how exactly that money will be spent — those details would likely be finalized in the next legislative session — but McCluskie said that amount of money represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the long-term housing conversation in Colorado.

“We have never had $400 (million) or $500 million to invest in something as critical as housing,” McCluskie said. “To have this opportunity to make real, lasting impact on the affordable housing supply and inventory I think is very powerful — a moment that deserves the time, the attention, the conversation and collaboration with all of the key partners and leaders across the state who are intimately aware of what the problems are.”

Rep. Julie McCluskie speaks at an event Sept. 3, 2020, in Dillon. She is a sponsor of House Bill 21-1271, which is meant to remove barriers and provide incentives for the development of affordable housing by local governments.
Photo by Jason Connolly / Jason Connolly Photography


Fraser tables discussion of decreased service fees for deed restricted housing

Amid budget talks for next year, the Fraser Board of Trustees continued a question about lowering service fees for a new affordable housing project outside town.

On Wednesday, Fraser’s board discussed a request from developer Clark Lipscomb to lower service fees for his Low Income Housing project known as the Mill Ave apartments. Originally, the request had been shared with the town’s budget committee to determine the impacts to the town’s water fund. 

The budget committee calculated the annual service fees for two potential reductions, a 50% decrease in fees and a 67% decrease in fees. The town would typically charge $76,692 for the project, making a 50% cut $38,346 and a 67% reduction $25,000.

However, when the numbers were in front of the board, many trustees raised concerns about the implications of granting the reduction to one project and how that could impact the town’s policy.

“There are some big policy questions that I don’t think are appropriate for us to solidify with this budget,” Trustee Katie Soles said. 

Other trustees felt approving lower service fees didn’t need to wait if the board kept its decision narrow, to only include new deed restricted construction.

“If we want projects like this to go forward, especially deed restricted, we need to decide on how we incentivize it and those come with real world dollar impacts to the town,” Trustee Ryan Barwick said. “We can shape this however we want.”

A split 4-3 vote led to the discussion being continued to the Dec. 2 meeting. 

Lipscomb shared his frustration in the board’s decision, questioning why the town was holding up an affordable housing project when trustees have voiced support for those kinds of projects.

“Why should a one bedroom, one bathroom apartment pay the same quarterly service fees as the biggest home in town,” he asked. “Do you really want housing?”

With the service fee change tabled, the board discussed the remainder of the budget without making huge changes. 

Trustees want to increase the deed restricted housing fund to $750,000, as well as funding for street improvements and water and wastewater projects. A big focus of the 2021 budget is building up the town’s reserve funds. 

The final budget hearing will be on Dec. 2.

In other business:

• The board issued notices of default to both Rendezvous and Grand Park for missing paperwork deadlines related to their respective annexation agreements. Rendezvous needs to convey land to the town, while Grand Park needs to file its annual attainable housing audit. The developments have 30 days to resolve the issues.

• An easement for a residential property on Discovery Lane was approved. The easement will allow the homeowners to rebuild their driveway to be more accessible.

• The town launched its search for an interim town manager after Town Manager Jeff Durbin announced his resignation. Fraser is working with Northwest Colorado Council of Governments to conduct the search and applications will be due by Nov. 30 so that the town can choose finalists in early December and have a final decision by Dec. 17. The interim town manager would start in January and contract for six months while the town conducts a search for a permanent manager.

Fireside Creek development plans to bring 40 affordable units to Winter Park

Winter Park is hoping to add around 40 new units to its attainable workforce housing roster through the development of the Fireside Creek project.

Fireside Creek, located on Kings Crossing Road next to the Silverado II Condominiums, is planned to be a mixed development of apartments, condominiums and townhomes restricted to workforce and low-income residents.

“In general, we think the best use for that location is (…) some sort of multi-family development,” said John Crone, housing manager for Winter Park.

Ideally, the units will also provide a mix of bedroom types that add up to over 100 new bedrooms. This would help make a dent in the town’s waitlist for affordable housing, which currently has over 200 people on it.

Last month, the town put a call out to developers to submit project proposals, which are due May 6. Crone said most of the details of the project will be finalized when the town decides which proposal to move forward with.

He estimated that the town would break ground on the project next year.

“It would be tough for someone to get in the ground this year, but they can get all the planning done and be ready to dive right into it next year,” Crone said.

While the 1.9 acres that Fireside Creek will be developed on, is not deed-restricted for workforce housing, the town purchased the lots with affordable housing in mind. Currently, Crone said they are looking into a few options as far as workforce or income restrictions go.

“We’d like to see kind of a mix,” he said. “Everything will be workforce limited at some level or another and, depending on the funding, some of it might be income-restricted.”

The town would like the development to include at least some units that target low-income families or individuals, specifically those with income levels of 60 to 120 percent of the area median income. Grand County’s area median income is $75,900, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Crone explained that providing income-restricted housing would allow the town to apply for Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, an indirect federal subsidy that finances low-income housing.

“It helps to maintain affordability for a period of time for those tenants,” he said. “And with the opportunity to get LIHTC funds, with the target we’re shooting for here, hopefully (the town) won’t have to bring any money to the project other than what we’ve already invested.”

Overall, the goal of the project is to continue to add to and diversify the available workforce housing in Winter Park.

“It absolutely meets the target that we’re aiming for, which is to bring those people who work in the town into the town and let them grow with the community,” Crone said.

Can modular homes save ski towns?

VAIL — Can modular homes solve the affordable housing crisis in Vail and other ski towns across the West, and maybe even save the planet as an added benefit? Maybe, but it’s still early days in the prefab revolution, cautioned developers and experts in the modular industry this week at the inaugural U.S. Mountain Community Summit in Vail.

“It’s an evolving industry that is getting better every day,” said Michael O’Connor, principal and chief operating officer of Triumph, the development company that used modular construction at the Town of Vail’s Chamonix local’s housing project in West Vail. “I’m a believer. But it’s got its own unique challenges.”

Triumph is also currently undertaking a 139-unit modular project in Truckee, Calif., with three different prefab companies providing the units that are predominantly built in a factory setting and then shipped to the development site. The idea is to control variables in on-site traditional construction such as mountain weather, pricey local labor and other factors.

“So many people are recognizing the difficulties that California is kind of leading the country in, like limited labor pool, very expensive local subcontractor base, projects too expensive, taking way too long to build,” O’Connor said. “You can control that risk by doing it in a controlled environment in a factory and get two-thirds of the project built and limit your exposure.”

Lean and green

Steve Glenn, founder and CEO of Plant Prefab in Rialto, Calif., said modular construction can streamline the building process, cut down on waste and basically make buildings so much more efficient and environmentally sustainable.

Buildings as a category in the United States, Glenn said, consume more energy through lighting, heating and cooling (39 percent) than both industry (29 percent) and transportation (32 percent), adding that 40 percent of all raw materials that are extracted on the planet are used for building materials.

“So the bad news for those us who believe there is increasingly bad climate change is that the buildings that we live in and play in and learn in and work in are the worst of all,” said Glenn, whose company spun off of LivingHomes, which has had dozens of its homes LEED certified. “The good news is the technology to dramatically reduce the energy, water and resource use exists, and it’s increasingly no more expensive than non-sustainable materials.”

Plant Prefab uses certified materials that reduced outgassing, solar energy, far more efficient insulation and more of it than is mandated, LED lights, energy efficient appliances and water systems that recycle for irrigation. Their homes are modular but very contemporary, and actually cost-competitive in the Vail Valley, O’Connor said after Glenn’s presentation.

Fixing the financial lag

The problem is that California and other more populous West Coast states are sucking demand their way, and modular companies have recognized they can get $120 a foot out there and maybe only $100 a foot in Colorado, so they’re heading west, O’Connor said. There are some start-up companies coming into Colorado, including one in Grand Junction, but Chamonix units were trucked in from a company in Boise, Idaho, called Nashua, and transport adds costs.

While Chamonix made sense as a modular project, O’Connor said it’s not a slam dunk that future workforce or local’s housing projects in Vail will continue to be cheaper and more efficient with prefab. One of the hurdles is financing, with most banks refusing to close on construction loans until a building permit is pulled, but modular companies want their money up front.

“Financing it is completely out of synch with what’s typical, and that’s challenging,” O’Connor said. “The financing community has not completely figured it out, but they’re coming around.”

Glenn said US Bank has started working on modular-specific loan products that could reverse that trend, but he admits his company has yet to do an affordable housing project in a mountain community. Neither has Brian Abramson, co-founder and director of business operations for Seattle-based Method Homes, which has worked in ski towns on the market-force side.

A solution to a crisis

Abramson strongly believes modular construction, especially technological advances like wet-core construction — with all the rooms with plumbing prebuilt — can help solve the acute housing crisis in both urban and mountain communities.

“The same problems that are happening in mountain towns are amplified in our market because of dramatic cost of living increases, real estate increases, so, especially in the affordable housing space, there’s a lot of skepticism [of modular in Seattle], more so than I heard here, which is actually really validating to hear how much it’s been embraced in the mountain communities,” Abramson said.

Microsoft on Wednesday announced it’s spending $500 million, mostly on loans, to help solve the housing crisis in the Seattle metro area, where it’s based, and Amazon has committed $2 billion to combat homelessness across the nation. Amazon is also an investor in Plant Prefab, Glenn said, adding he’d like to see policymakers begin regulating with modular in mind.

That could include onsite building inspections at the modular factories, or even zoning laws that are more amendable to multi-family modular projects.

“Minneapolis just got rid of single-family zoning. If you have a home in a single-family home zone area, you can now do multi-family anywhere in Minneapolis,” Glenn said. “Obviously, the number of units are limited by the size of your lot, but that’s spectacular. That’s going to have a dramatic effect on creating more housing more efficiently. I hope more cities do this.”

Glenn doesn’t see that necessarily happening in mountain towns, but it’s a solution for cities, and O’Connor said more and more modular companies such as Glenn’s and Abramson’s are building beautiful contemporary prefab homes that anyone would want to live in.

“It’s not like a trailer anymore,” O’Connor laughed. “It’s not stack-a-shack.”

Martin: Some hard truths about local housing issues

It’s time to face some brutal truths about housing.

We at Sky-Hi News completed our three-part housing series last week, which dug into many of the factors and effects going into the housing problems facing Grand County.

What we learned wasn’t very hopeful, unfortunately. Though, the situation is not entirely hopeless.

There will never be a magic solution to providing enough quality affordable housing — especially more than just apartments — while being able to maintain reasonable wages for workers, without disrupting natural views or avoiding the government becoming your next landlord.

That’s a fact.

But it’s all about money.

Most developers are looking for profit, like any business. With the local housing market thriving on the construction of homes with a price tag in excess of $500,000 and well above, the thinking seems to be why not stick to offering an abundance of those homes instead of settling for the typically small revenue streams coming from a small cluster of low-income or affordable housing? Especially with the steep costs tied to constructing large complexes of affordable housing units, why not simply obtain a parcel of land — make sure there’s a view — and start building million-dollar mansions that offer a heftier profit?

Developers shouldn’t be chastised for wanting to make money. It is, after all, the driving factor behind mostly everything in this world. And that’s what it will take to start seeing rampant housing units erected around the county: oodles of capital.

Set aside the financial factors involved and look singularly at the most basic principle of macroeconomics: supply versus demand. Prices are high because there is simply not enough housing.

Therein lies the rub, as the bard would say.

While my background is surely not in economics, it doesn’t take somebody schooled at the finest business schools to realize there is a problem.

But it’s nothing new; it’s just getting worse.

We applaud the towns of Granby and Winter Park for thinking forward, for working alongside developers to try to mitigate local housing woes through persistence and incentive. But it won’t be enough and it won’t please everyone.

Take, for example, the proposed RV park and affordable housing units Sun Communities is planning to develop on the west side of Granby.

Some people already don’t consider it a good location, being right at a major entrance to the town; that it will be an eyesore; that it’s too grandiose. OK. But it’s these same people who are often the first to complain about the problems with housing. Now they balk at somebody trying to fix it.

We don’t want to wax pessimistic. But we need to remain honest.

There are people, right now, that are unable to survive in the county. They resort to popping up tents at random campsites and have nowhere else to go, struggling in the pursuit of earning a decent living wage. They’re the lift workers, the ones that hand you your morning cup of coffee or sell you your next pair of skis.

It’s tragic. It also runs contrary to what our communities should stand for. There shouldn’t be people hoping to live in this county and then get here only to have their dreams dashed because they have to live out of their tiny coupe or collapsible tent.

That, however, is the stunning realization.

In a county seemingly flowing with actual capital, one would think housing would be a cinch because we can pay them sufficiently.

We don’t want people having to live out of their cars or campsites, so we’ll plan to raise hourly wages. That’s another crapshoot.

Unless the business is so lucrative it can afford to raise wages on a large scale, it’s not going to solve anything. It’s small businesses then that get the bad brunt of the issue. Suddenly businesses have to lay off workers to pay the higher wages, then they start to close because they simply can’t keep up with paying higher wages. Those workers might now be able to afford housing, but now they’re out of a job.

Without these businesses and their services, the housing issues become a problem for all of us.

There have been some interesting attempts at solving the issues elsewhere, something we think could actually provide a big boon to our local housing crisis.

One of the biggest attractions bringing people to Grand County, not just tourists but workers and residents, is undoubtedly Winter Park Resort. We are so pleased to have such a great place in our community and we sincerely wish them the best as they move forward with their operations now under new ownership.

But what if Winter Park Resort, for example, were able to contribute a sizable sum of money to a local non-profit that maintains an affordable housing fund? We then start to see 40 to 50 new housing units breaking ground. More workers come to the area and find jobs, more money flows through the local economy, more property is added to the towns’ tax rolls. Other businesses and even enterprising local residents then follow suit and contribute to the fund and the cycle continues. Local municipalities stay out of the housing issue and instead set priorities in other sectors such as improving roads, creating new parks and keeping our communities safe and secure.

It’s just a thought. But maybe it’s just a pipe dream.

Back in the last community where I lived and worked in North Dakota, the aging, cramped community hospital desperately needed to expand and find a new building; but instead of constructing a whole new campus, their solution was to add on new wings to the existing long-term care facility across town.

Their solution to finding affordable housing for their new employees, since they would be adding more, was to purchase homes that were for sale in the community where the doctors and nurses could live, full-time, or at least until they got their bearings and could find something of their own.

Sky-Hi News is fortunate enough to be able to provide affordable housing for the community. Though it’s not a lot, it is something. And while obviously not every business can afford to purchase land and construct housing, or may not even want to if it could, it isn’t hard to envision it as a small-ish solution to at least start addressing the issue head on. So we encourage our local business leaders to enter into a dialogue. You run successful businesses; surely if you put your heads together, you’ll work up some ingenious solutions. It’d be at least worthwhile to talk and explore the options.

Small developments here and there aren’t going to do the trick. And not everyone wants to live in a cramped apartment. Some people are seeking starter homes, something for less than $200,000 while not sacrificing quality or location.

Needless to say, the housing issues facing Grand County are extremely complex. Pull at one string and another moves with it. And while there are people out there right now trying to come up with their own solution, it will take more than one person to solve the problem.

These issues will not go away unless, say, the county was to undergo some mass exodus, which would be unimaginably traumatic all around. I’m sure that’s something we all want to avoid.

Setting aside the people who wish Grand County would return to its former quiet “splendor,” i.e. the long-ago past, we need solutions to the housing crisis to preserve and ultimately build on the progressive spirit of this region. Things need to be solved to position the county for the future, which is where we should be headed — together.

Bryce Martin, editor of Sky-Hi News, can be contacted at bmartin@skyhinews.com.

How-to: A guide to buying and renting in Grand County

Editor’s note: This article is part of the final installment in Sky-Hi News’s three-part housing series that examines the affordable housing issue facing Grand County and its widespread effects.

It’s no secret that finding a place to live in Grand County is difficult. Housing is scarce and what is available can be expensive, leaving countless people struggling to fill their needs.

So how can it be done?

Local industry leaders provided practical advice for those looking to rent an apartment or buy their first home in Grand County. The first, and most emphasized tip was to thoroughly prepare both your financials and your expectations.

“The first thing I’m going to ask is have you talked with a lender yet?” said Robin Herbert, associate at RE/MAX Peak to Peak. “You also have to decide what you absolutely have to have in a home, because in a lower-priced market, there’s not that much.”

Because of the competitive nature of the market for both renting and buying, those looking for new housing have to move quickly and decisively to stand a chance. Most local industry insiders agreed that before starting the home buying process in earnest, the purchaser should consult a lender, get pre-approved for financing and know exactly what can be afforded.

“If something nice comes on the market that’s under $300,000 it goes very quickly,” said Herbert. “You can’t have a mindset of needing to think about it. You kind of have to have already thought of everything so you can move quickly.”

Herbert said it’s also necessary to define what you’re looking for in a home, and make decisions on wants versus needs based on availability. She suggested seeing everything in your price range, even if you’re not interested, so that when something more ideal comes on the market you will recognize it.

But it is also important to be flexible in deciding what you want.

“I think flexibility is probably more important than ever considering inventory is at a record low,” said Chad Griffith, co-owner and managing partner of Mountain Chalet Property Management, Mountain Chalet Properties and a licensed Realtor. “Despite the pressure with low inventory, they still have to be comfortable with any purchase they make.”

A competitive market means a seller’s market. With every rental or for-sale property getting between 12 and 15 offers, it is important for applicants to make themselves as attractive as possible to potential sellers or landlords.

This process includes improving credit scores, getting references, providing rental history and generally looking your best on paper.

“I liken it very much to searching for that first job out of college,” said Griffith. “You really have to build your case. Really selling yourself to potential landlords is imperative in this type of a market.”

When consulting a lender, you can get detailed advice about ways to increase your credit score. Paying off debt and avoiding major purchases on credit could lead to lower interest rates for buyers and a better résumé for renters.

Renters should provide anything that will paint them in a positive light, including references and rental history.

“Landlords are able to be more picky about who they have live in their units,” said Sheena Darland, housing coordinator at the Grand County Housing Authority. “So make sure you have references ready to be contacted, so they don’t have to wait on checking them. And it’s important to leave the unit with a good reference for the future.”

The Grand County Housing Authority offers a monthly home-buying class, targeted at first time home buyers, which helps to break down how to prepare for the process.

Before you can apply, you have to find a house or apartment you can afford, and there are several resources available to renters and buyers.

Buyers and renters should be diligent in checking online websites that list new properties. Applicants should also consider local real estate agents or property managers, which are updated daily with new properties.

A lack of formal resources can be frustrating for renters, who have to rely more on word-of-mouth to find housing. Griffith said renters need to expand their network, and include everyone possible in the search.

“Whether it’s friends, family or folks who work in the industry, it can’t hurt to extend your search to any and all people you know,” said Griffith. “Create relationships with people you aren’t familiar with, and the companies that manage rentals. In this type of a market I think it’s imperative for those looking to not only be relentless, but persistent.”

Those without local connections should inquire at local chambers of commerce for recommendations, and many properties are listed on classified pages such as Craigslist or the popular Grand County On Line Garage Sale Facebook page. Those looking should also check with their employer to see if they can assist.

There are also resources for those who are having trouble affording rentals.

The Grand County Housing Authority grants Section 8 housing vouchers, though the waiting list is currently closed. The Grand Foundation awards housing assistance, and just teamed up with Winter Park Resort and the Town of Winter Park to open a new donor advised Winter Park Housing Assistance Fund. The Grand Angels in Grand Lake and the Mountain Family Center also offer assistance.

“When grants and funds like that come about I think it’s a huge help to the people in this county,” said Darland. “Even if it’s just helping with the security deposit or first and last month’s rent, that’s a big burden on people.”

While there’s only so much one can do to combat the harsh housing conditions in the county, thoroughly preparing, knowing where to look and utilizing all of your resources could help make the difference.

“That’s really all it is, understanding where you need to be and how to get there,” said Herbert.

A growing issue: Lack of affordable housing leading more to homelessness

Editor’s note: This article is part of the final installment in Sky-Hi News’s three-part housing series that examines the affordable housing issue facing Grand County and its widespread effects.

The Grand County Housing Authority conducted a Grand County Housing Needs Assessment in 2007, officially identifying nine homeless individuals within the county. Today, Helen Sedlar of the Mountain Family Center sees two to three each week.

Exacerbated by rising housing prices, a seasonal economy, lack of transportation and transient population, homelessness is on the rise.

“We’ve been seeing this grow each year,” said Sedlar, president and executive director of Mountain Family Center. “Lots of people camp in their cars or wherever they can, so they come in looking for tents and extra blankets. I wouldn’t say we have a huge population, but then again if you started counting all the individuals that are couch surfing that would make that number pop up.”

Part of the issue when defining the breadth of homelessness issues is a difficulty to accurately quantify how many people are without reliable housing. The nine individuals from the 2007 needs assessment is far from an accurate statistic, failing to include dozens who are couch-surfing or camping.

The report estimated that five percent of the respondents to the household survey said they were staying with friends. The survey did not account for campers.

Sedlar said that the Mountain Family Center worked with about 60 homeless households last year, and estimates about 75 for this year. Because of the inaccuracy of homeless measurements, Sedlar uses another statistic, food insecurity rate from Feeding America, as a more accurate measure of local homelessness and working poor conditions.

Food insecurity measures lack of access to enough food, providing a relatively good representation of those who have difficulty affording both food and housing costs.

“I think it paints a better picture of the working poor population in our community,” said Sedlar. “Because working poor often have to choose between buying groceries and paying rent.”

Grand County has a food insecurity rate of 12.6 percent, or about 1,820 people in the county, according to data from Feeding America. Colorado overall has a 12.2 percent food insecurity rate.

Other issues include seasonal jobs and individuals’ lack of reliable transport. Sedlar said often workers will arrive late in the spring, before summer jobs are available. Winter workers can also be left without jobs during seasons where snow shows up late. It is also an issue where an employee finds a reasonable housing situation, but doesn’t have reliable transportation to get to their job in a different town.

The transient population also has trouble finding housing.

“The ones who make it here are very transient,” said Dan Mayer, patrol lieutenant and public information officer for the Grand County Sheriff’s Office. “They don’t come with a plan, they just jump off the train and think it’s pretty. We have a lot of people who camp out and make a home in the forest service land.”

It’s common for homeless individuals to camp out in campsites or forest land, though most campsites have limitations for how long visitors can stay. Dispersed camping, or camping off of designated campsites on Forest Service land, is legal for up to 16 days. After that deadline, a person must move at least five miles away.

The Forest Service keeps tabs on campers to ensure they follow restrictions.

“During the summer we definitely do deal with it on a weekly basis,” said Meyer. “You’ll have somebody camping out for a while in a bus or tent. We go out there and move them along.”

There are several resources in Grand County for homeless individuals or those at risk of losing their housing situation. Grants offered by Mountain Family Center, Grand Angels, the Grand Foundation, The town of Winter Park, the state and others can help individuals with rent, security deposits and utilities.

While these programs are essential, and provide a valuable service for the county, the requirements for subsidies often put the working poor in difficult positions. If someone is working 20 hours per week, and is offered a bump to 30, they may have to turn down extra work to ensure they don’t negate their subsidies. Pay raises need to be substantial enough to ensure a living wage, while more moderate income increases could actually set back some households, according to Sedlar.

“It’s not that they don’t want to work, but they have to think about how their families can best survive,” said Sedlar. “It’s a cycle they are trying to get out of. But it’s not going to happen until we have some societal changes across the country with a livable wage and accessible transportation.”

Housing woes contribute to workforce shortage; higher wages not definitive solution, says local restaurateur

Editor’s note: This article is part of the final installment in Sky-Hi News’s three-part housing series that examines the affordable housing issue facing Grand County and its widespread effects.

Ask any employer in Grand County about the labor market and they are likely to exclaim how difficult it is to find workers or to even retain them.

With remarkably low unemployment in the county, the pool of available workers is already small, but add in rising rents and the relative dearth of rental stock and the picture becomes more complicated.

The ways these issues play out varies between employers.

Peter Colley, general manager of the Silver Creek Steakhouse in Granby, has been struggling all summer to fill positions at the restaurant, which he attributes to unaffordable housing costs and low availability.

“People who normally come to the county for summer and winter jobs don’t come here anymore,” Colley said. “They can’t afford to live here, and even if they could afford it, there is nothing left for them to rent.”

Colley has been short-staffed throughout this summer, able to operate a full dining room only two days per week purely because a lack of employees. While the restaurateur expressed his belief that the housing problem is related to both the high cost of rent and lack of inventory, Colley believes cost is the greater factor of the two.

“It is a little bit of both, but I would say price is what keeps workers from coming here,” he said. “A two bedroom condo runs anywhere from $1,000 to $1,600 per month and people in the service industry can’t afford that.”

Colley said he offers servers $10 per hour, plus tips, at the steakhouse, but even that is not enough to cover rental costs. It is his belief that employers alone could not solve the problem by offering higher wages.

“I don’t really know a good solution,” Colley said. “I don’t know that increases in wages can do it. A $1 per hour increase doesn’t make up the difference. It is a tough situation for a small business and it is all related to housing; more so than it is wages. Seasonal workers are not coming here looking to get rich. They are looking to have fun, but having a place to put your head at night is part of that.”

Amy Kaplanis, owner and operator of Country Ace Hardware in Granby, echoed many of Colley’s sentiments, though with a different core labor issue.

For Country Ace, the problem is less about finding workers than it is about retaining them.

“Typically our employees are already living in the county,” Kaplanis said. “How it affects us is when they lose their apartment or a roommate. It happens often enough that I am concerned about it. We need more affordable housing.”

Kaplanis said she often hears about the “through the roof” cost of housing for hourly-wage workers in Grand County and questioned how many of the seasonal workers in the area would be permanent year-round residents if they could find appropriate housing. She added that the housing crunch impacts businesses on the back-end with the regular struggle to meet staffing needs.

Some businesses like Country Ace, which hires seasonal foreign workers through a J-1 visa program, also provide workforce housing for some of their employees. That option, however, is not realistic for many smaller local businesses.

Kaplanis also believes that wages were not the core issue and that any wage increases would limit businesses ability to provide other enticements for workers, such as housing.

“We run on very thin margins,” Kaplanis said. “It certainly has a huge impact on what we are able to do as a company when a larger percentage goes to wages.”

Whatever the solution is, if there really is a definitive one, so long as the housing market in Grand County remains tight, the labor shortage problems the county is facing will continue to stymie business growth.

Land sales, new development remain sluggish in Grand County

“Buy land,” Mark Twain once said. “They’re not making it anymore.”

But it appears Grand County has yet to get the memo.

The housing market in Grand County has been tightening for several years with rising rents, rebounding home prices and shortages in many areas, but as local residents continue to wrestle with these systemic forces, new housing developments on open land are few and far between and new affordable housing even more scarce.

Out of all the market segments related to local housing, from rentals to condos to stick-built homes, land sales are among the most sluggish, rivaled only by commercial property sales. The dynamic is created by many elements from a glut of properties on the market to high permitting and construction costs, to general consumer interest in existing homes.

Whatever the causes, the already tight housing market in Grand County is likely to only get tighter unless new units are built.

“My belief is the current home inventory has been sufficient enough that buyers have chosen to buy resale versus build their own (homes),” said Lance Gutersohn, broker and owner of RE/MAX Peak to Peak in Winter Park. “But we are at a tipping point. There is not enough inventory to meet demand.”

Gutersohn said the lack of housing inventory is starting to push some people towards open land and construction, but he added that the cost of construction could be prohibitive to many people, including developers.

“We are not seeing any development pressure yet,” Gutersohn said.

He acknowledged that there are some developers currently working on projects in the county, but there has been effectively no sales pressure from the vast majority of prospective developers or those looking to build affordable housing.

“The infrastructure fees make it virtually impossible for anybody to take that risk,” Gutersohn said. “It’s the permitting fees, water taps, sewer taps, gas taps, electric taps, and then there are the land costs and construction costs on top of that. Until we see a compelling reason, from a bottom-line perspective, we are not going to see people take those risks and provide us with what we need.”

Still, Gutersohn said he believes the market for affordable housing in Grand County will improve in the future, along with the entire housing market.

Clark Lipscomb, developer of the Grand Park housing development in the Fraser Valley, is one of the few in Grand County conducting larger-scale housing construction and echoed many of Gutersohn’s sentiments.

Lipscomb highlighted market conditions as the primary factor behind his, or any other developer’s, decision to build but segued quickly to blame costs and the labor pool.

“Material costs are going up dramatically,” Lipscomb said. “We also have a labor shortage. Those are two key factors. The workforce issue is more of a housing-related issue.”

Lipscomb said he is currently working on several development projects of varying sizes, but highlighted uncertainty about size of demand, coupled with scalable construction costs, as an obstacle to new rental housing developments. He was quite clear that he sees both a need and demand for new housing, but when asked if affordable housing developments were a good financial investment in Grand County, Lipscomb paused briefly.

“Yes, to an extent,” he continued. “They are absolutely viable, but the question is at what scale? Fraser and Winter Park have worked hard on what demand might be, but we can’t be sure. Do we need 20 units or 200 units? I don’t think most people really know how deep the market is for affordable housing.”

Lipscomb explained his belief that labor force issues in Grand County will continue to be a “bigger and bigger problem” until more workforce housing is created.

“What the solution is? I don’t know,” he stated.

He highlighted several potential measures including employer provided housing, which Lipscomb says he provides for some of his employees, including subsidies — either employer or government, fee waivers or reductions or simply paying employees higher wages.

“The bottom-line is we need investors in the marketplace,” Lipscomb said. “To have them, we need to have market support for these projects. We need people to be encouraged to buy or build more.”

We’re not alone: What other communities facing a housing crisis are seeing and doing

The housing crisis facing Grand County is far from unique. Colorado has one of the fastest growing housing markets in the nation, and the recent influx has left cities and towns all over the state failing to meet the demand for affordable housing.

Resort towns on the western slope may have it worst of all.

Three popular resort destinations outside Grand County on the western slope continue to witness the effects of having few options for affordable housing. But through recognizing their issues, some have found possible solutions.

“We identified a long time ago that this is an issue for our resort town,” said Kim Dykstra, director of communications for the town of Breckenridge. “It’s a mixed bag, and there are many facets to this challenge. So that’s why we’ve approached it with a multi-faceted plan.”

Dykstra said Breckenridge has faced housing concerns similar to those in Grand County for years. This sentiment was reiterated by Gary Suiter, city manager of Steamboat Springs, and Jennifer Kermode, executive director of the Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority. Gunnison Valley houses Crested Butte, Mount Crested Butte and is the home to Western State University.

“In the summer of 2016, there were just over 390 jobs in the Gunnison Valley that went unfilled, primarily due to the lack of affordable housing,” said Kermode. “We have business owners who have had to change their business model because they can’t get employees.

“That’s a significant financial impact on the businesses, but also on the employees who can’t save money because the demand for rental units are so high and rents are so high.”

Kermode noted that about 80 percent of employers in the area reported having some type of housing-related issues with their employees.

The housing situation stems from several different problems — there isn’t enough housing, and the housing that is available is too expensive.

The economic growth in Grand County over recent years has left employers wanting for workers, but needs will go unmet as long as housing rates continue to outpace wage increases. And landlords choosing to use their property for short-term rentals through AirBnB or VRBO are exacerbating the issue.

“It’s a huge issue here,” said Suiter. “It’s classic supply and demand, whereas the demand continues to increase and more workers come to town, rental rates are increasing faster than the wages are increasing.”


Breckenridge has actively been working to fix its housing market since the late 1980s, when it introduced the first dedicated workforce unit.

Today, the town has approximately 1,000 deed-restricted units that are based on a household’s gross income and meeting a set of standards such as full-time employment and income testing.

The idea is that workers will be able to move into affordable apartments, and save enough money to invest in a deed-restricted home someday.

Winter Park is taking a similar approach with the new Sitzmark apartments, set to open later this year, part of the town’s concerted effort to provide more affordable housing following a needs assessment report in 2014.

A workforce housing impact report published by Breckenridge in January 2014 shows that its efforts have been impactful.

The rise in affordable housing increased local occupancy of homes from 25 percent in 2000 to 28 percent in 2010, and helped the town’s essential workers purchase homes in town. The town also increased the number of year-round occupants, and decreased in-commuting by 100,000 vehicle miles each week.

Dykstra said that despite progress, too many workers having to commute from cheaper neighborhoods is still an issue.

“We’ve been able to cut down the amount of workers that can’t afford to live in our community, and it has decreased the amount of inflow traffic,” she said. “But people still come from Fairplay or Leadville, some of those areas that are more affordable. They don’t live in your community, so when they leave their jobs the lights go out.

“If they stay here and live here then they will shop here, socialize and contribute to our community. And that’s how you get a vibrant community.”

Steamboat Springs

Steamboat Springs also has to deal with in-traffic coming in from as far as Craig. Suiter said that the town offers a commuter bus that runs between Steamboat Springs and Craig for a small fee.

But commuters are just part of the issue there.

In 2014, an ordinance was lifted regarding inclusionary zoning on new developments.

“In other words, requiring a developer to include a certain percentage of affordable housing in a residential development,” said Suiter. “That’s not been put back on the books yet. The council has backed off on that, but it still remains one of their goals.”

Suiter said the fear is that rising house prices will eventually remove the middle class from the city.

“Part of the fear is that our communities eventually become exclusive to the wealthy, and middle class folks can’t afford to live here,” he said. “And that takes away a lot of the community character and a lot of the people that serve the resort area as well.”

Suiter also voiced concerns that short-term rentals are taking potentially affordable housing and long-term options out of the housing stock. He said most condos and homeowner associations permit nightly rentals, and more people are buying property for investment purposes, and using it for short-term rentals.

They currently tax these types of rentals. While the money is currently not set aside for anything specific, Suiter expressed an idea to earmark the money to use for an affordable housing fund. Though, he was hesitant to suggest any more direct solutions to incentivize long-term rentals.

“It’s difficult to do because it could be viewed as market interference if the government tried to exert itself,” he said. “It’s tricky for government to reach its tentacles out into the free market in that way.”

Gunnison Valley

Kermode, of the Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority, thinks incentivizing long-term leases may be the way to go after all.

She said she would like to implement a master lease program between property owners and the housing authority, wherein households that are at risk of losing their home would receive the units. She cited a similar program she worked on in Summit County.

“It turned out to be a pretty successful program and I’d like to do something like that in the Gunnison Valley sometime in the near future,” she said. “It’s a way to use existing units and pull them out of that short term rental market.”

Kermode had several other ideas to help with the cause.

The housing authority, as she explained, has been looking at ideas such as allowing properties to construct a trailer or small home as short-term affordable housing on existing lots, and enticing private developers by agreeing to build the infrastructure for new developments themselves. Kermode also said they may be putting a new measure on the ballot this year for an increased property tax to increase funding for affordable housing programs.

“That would raise dollars for us to leverage for federal and state grant and loan programs to build housing,” she said.

Kermode also noted the importance of preserving the existing housing stock, while also making the existing stock more affordable to live in. She said that older and less energy-efficient homes may be cheaper, but more expensive in upkeep.

“We have people paying $400 a month in rent for a small apartment or home, but their electric bills could be at much as $800 a month in the Winter,” Kermode said.

While ideas to fix the issue seem plentiful, and progress has actually been made in areas, the solution will have to come in the long-term.

“This isn’t a problem that’s going away for a while for the Colorado western slope communities,” said Kermode. “The economy is relatively strong, and people have discovered that Colorado is an amazingly gorgeous place to recreate.

“I think we need to find as many tools in the toolbox as we can and start using them in a strategic way.”