A fraction of Grand’s need: Winter Park breaks ground on 20 workforce homes but can’t crack housing crisis
A groundbreaking ceremony for the second phase of single-family homes in Winter Park’s Hideaway Junction neighborhood was bittersweet, as the project is demonstrable progress in the affordable housing crisis facing Grand County — yet will only make a dent in the existing need.
On Tuesday, Winter Park, Fraser, Grand County and Granby officials, along with residents, gathered on Kings Crossing Drive to celebrate the start of infrastructure construction on 20 new deed-restricted workforce homes. Speakers at the event also emphasized the need to continue work on affordable housing.
Introducing the project, Winter Park Mayor Nick Kutrumbos noted the work throughout Grand on affordable housing, but added that it’s an ongoing problem that will take multiple solutions and partnerships going forward.
“The projects being brought forth by the town of Winter Park are just a fraction of what we need in the community,” Kutrumbos said. “I’m excited about this project, we are moving forward and … getting houses vertical. And I’m excited to continue these conversations and make sure we have a viable plan.”
Hideaway Junction is one of two projects that Winter Park is currently working on to address affordable housing. The other is a 60-unit apartment complex known as Fireside Creek, which is in the planning process.
Outside Winter Park, there are projects online near Fraser, Grand Lake and Granby, which are also still in the planning process.
The housing crisis is not a new problem in Grand but has been weighing heavier than ever this summer as demand for services and labor peaks. In addition, Grand’s housing inventory took a blow last year with the East Troublesome Fire destroying roughly 10% of the available housing supply, according to Grand Foundation Executive Director Megan Ledin.
“As if we didn’t have an inventory and an affordable inventory problem before, this has shown that impacts to one localized area has affected the entire county,” Ledin said. “The need for affordable housing is greater than ever in our county.”
The recently released Mountain Migration Report, which surveyed almost 5,000 respondents in Grand, Summit, Routt, Pitkin, San Miguel and Eagle, highlights the dire nature of the housing situation.
According to the survey, gross sales volume reached nearly $1 billion in Grand County last year, up 39% from 2019 to 2020, while total transactions increased by 15%.
The increased demand from part-time owners and other interests means Grand and other counties are losing housing inventory, according to the Mountain Migration Report. The report said that in 2020, less than one in four property sales in Grand went to county residents.
“We’re losing our community, local feel, but there are ways that we can get past this if we work together,” Kutrumbos said. “Without solving this crisis, there is no sustainability in our community.”
A Grand County resident quoted in the Mountain Migration Report said they attempted to buy a home last year, offering the asking price of $749,000. According to that quote, the offer was the lowest of seven on the property, with the seller ultimately taking a cash offer for $250,000 over the asking price.
Notably, newcomers and part-time residents are coming to the six surveyed counties with higher average incomes compared to full-time residents. More than 30% of newcomers and 50% of part-time residents make more than $300,000 in annual gross household income as compared to just over 10% of Grand County residents.
“Newcomers with significantly higher incomes than year-round residents more often won the competition for scarce housing units,” the report said.
Creating new housing is another challenge. The report noted that in Grand County and Telluride, contractors are commonly booked three years out.
Building new units also requires funding, which Grand County isn’t able to raise through its current housing authority. However, county and town officials, including Kutrumbos, have recently expressed the desire to form a regional or multi-jurisdictional housing authority.
County commissioners have previously emphasized that they are also looking for solutions to this complicated issue with an expressed interest in the regional housing authority.
Such a program would have the option to ask voters to implement a mill levy or sales tax for affordable housing, which could then be leveraged to match additional funding from other sources.
“Other municipalities are coming around to the idea of it as well,” Grand County Housing Authority Director Sheena Darland said. “It’s new in the process, but everybody is seeing the need for it. We’re seeing an urgent need for housing — period. Our biggest obstacle is funding.”
To form a regional housing authority, the county and other jurisdictional parties would need to create and sign a number of intergovernmental agreements that would spell out how the authority would run, what the partnerships would look like, who would sit on the board and many other details.
“It’s a pretty extensive process and a lot of paperwork,” Darland said.
Darland said the housing authority also meets biweekly with the community development department to look at ways to incentivize developers to build truly affordable housing. She explained that the housing authority is constantly looking at a number of ways to address the housing crisis.
“There’s really not one solution,” Darland said. “We need so much housing and so many different types of housing. It’s truly going to take us coming all together to get affordable housing on the ground.”
For Grand County, officials agree that the key to creating affordable housing lies in collaboration across public and private partnerships, between the county and the towns, and beyond.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the correct number of homes for Hideaway Junction Phase 2, which is 20.
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