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Colorado mountain towns facing housing crisis, dwindling workforce

Dillon apartment
Posted at 3:41 PM, Jul 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-28 08:39:36-04

FRISCO, Colo. — It’s easy to see the appeal of living in Colorado’s mountain towns.

But for people like Ruth Graham, who has lived in Summit County for five years, regardless of how badly she wants to stay, it’s looking more and more difficult.

"I keep asking myself, 'Why? Why is it like this?'" Graham said.

Graham currently rents an apartment in Dillon. She was given a two-week notice that the owner was selling the home, and she had to be out in two weeks. The problem is she’s limited on where to go next.

"Oh my God, the search is bad. It is bad because now they are telling you if you see a house for $3,000 (a month) and you say, 'Yes, I will take it,' they want you to pay three times, and you have to be working that $3,000 per month to get that place," Graham said.

Many of the people facing similar issues end up asking for help at the Family and Intercultural Resource Center in nearby Silverthorne.

"Our mission is to stabilize families in our community," said Brianne Snow, executive director of the Family and Intercultural Resource Center.

Snow said over the last 15 months, they’ve served one in six Summit County residents — a sign of the need and struggle many locals are having with housing.

"The jobs don’t pay as much as it costs to live here and compounded by COVID, and then all of these changes with the rental market and an opportunity to really sell your house and make a lot of money, has left a lot of people unhoused," Snow said.

A walk down Frisco’s Main Street also shows two sides of the same issue: an increase in tourism coupled with a dwindling workforce.

"You walk down Main Street and everybody has a hiring sign in the window. Everybody is doing multiple jobs. And even here, our staff is stretched really thin," Snow said.

Frisco’s mayor said it's an issue across all mountain towns with a tourism economy. While conversations on finding a solution go on, they’ve hired someone to dig deeper.

"We’ve actually hired a new, full-time staff position whose title is just short-term rental specialist, and they’re going to learn the world of that and how it impacts our community. I don’t want anybody to have to leave our community, especially based on the fact that they can’t afford it," Mayor Hunter Mortensen said.

But in Graham's case, she doesn’t have much time to wait around. Instead of living and working in the town she’s grown to love, she’s considering moving away.

"We don’t want to live free, we don’t want a handout," Graham said. "We just want to live here, pay our bills and be happy."