BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — Pick a mountain community in Colorado; chances are they are dealing with a housing shortage for employees. From Crested Butte to Telluride, Breckenridge to Vail — across Colorado employees are having a difficult time finding a place to live in the communities they work.
“Our sheriff can’t find new deputies. It’s so across the spectrum this housing crisis is really impacting us and in really fundamental ways. It’s changing who we are as a community,” said Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue.
For many, the lack of affordable and available housing means expensive rent, constant moves or long commutes. Over the past year with the COVID pandemic, the need for housing has only grown. More families are moving to the mountains as businesses become increasingly comfortable with remote work.
“You get people that are moving around a whole lot to because rent is constantly going up. A lot of people are doing month-to-month stuff and you end up losing employees over it to who just can’t stay in one spot for too long,” said Breckenridge resident Jackson Rorex. “A lot of the employees live in their cars or are commuting.”
Each town and county is working on its own set of solutions for the housing crunch.
In Summit County, commissioners hosted a town hall Friday to talk about their approach and to answer questions from the community. Commissioners estimate that they need about 3,000 units to fill the current needs of the area.
“Coming out of COVID, the housing situation really has reached a crisis level,” Pogue said.
The county even went as far as to issue a crisis proclamation to highlight the gravity of housing shortage. Because Summit County is the most visited area in the state and the state relies on tourism to spur its economy, Pogue considers this a Colorado crisis, not just an issue for mountain communities to navigate.
Commissioners are now working on short, medium and long-term solutions. In the short-term, the county is taking a closer look at short-term rentals and imbalance they have caused in the housing market.
In recent years, rentals like Vrbo and AirBNB have become increasingly popular options for property owners. There are currently 4,300 active short-term rental permits in the county, mostly concentrated in Keystone and Copper Mountain.
Summit County is working on a series of financial incentives to try to entice the property owners to switch some of those properties to long-term rentals for locals, particularly in areas away from popular ski resorts. Commissioners say they are not against short-term rentals, they just want to see more balance.
Another option involves putting together a sort of matching service where landlords and would-be tenants can connect.
“Currently people are looking on Craigslist, Facebook, community groups, word of mouth, driving around. There’s so many different ways, and we’re trying to have a central location, central repository that would essentially be matching landlords with renters,” said Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence.
The so-called central clearinghouse would be run through the county’s housing authority. Lawrence hopes that once it’s up and running, people will be able to search by budget or number of rooms.
In the medium-term, the county is working with homeowners and developing companies to build more accessory units on existing properties. One idea is to set up a lending library of architectural plans for additional units that have already been pre-approved in order to cut down on the time it takes to go through the construction process.
In the long term, commissioners say they will need to build more units. Summit County was the first in the country to buy land from the U.S. Forest Service. The county owns Lake Hill, which can hold 500 units, but construction is expensive. Commissioners are hoping to receive some stimulus money to fund the project.
“This has to be a collaborative approach to solving this. It can’t just be Summit County government or any of our towns or known or anyone business,” Lawrence said.
For now, residents and employees are left on the hunt for affordable housing in an area that’s increasingly difficult to live in.