Colorado cities seek ways to reduce affordable housing shortage


The housing barrier for workers in the Colorado highlands led last year to double wait times for buses, grocery stores closing early, pharmacies no longer open on weekends and shortages of teachers, nurses, dispatchers and first responders.

And if you call the Summit County government, vacancies limit what can be done.

Yet 34% to 71% of the dizzying homes in 15 counties in western Colorado are vacant, according to census data. Tens of thousands of vacancies – second homes, vacation rentals, and investor-owned properties ranging from mansions to condos – are affordable for affluent visitors but not for locals.

The pandemic has also led many people to relocate to the mountains, causing competition for house prices and rents to increase sharply.

In order to preserve some affordable housing, cities in the highlands are increasingly considering measures to alleviate the burden.

For decades, housing problems have primarily affected low-wage workers in the tourism and recreation industry, forcing resorts to install subsidized apartments designed for single workers. But now, after a 20-month surge caused by COVID, authorities are finding that even the highest-paying jobs such as those in the mining industry, which 150 years ago led to the colonization of mountains, are failing. more sufficient for workers to afford housing.

At the Climax molybdenum mine atop Fremont Pass, where 320 employees receive starting salaries ranging from $ 81,000 to $ 115,000, the lack of affordable housing is hampering efforts to recruit and retain staff, the deputy said. -Company President Linda Hayes at the Denver Post. Climax began paying registration fees of $ 2,500 and an annual allowance of $ 9,000 for housing in Colorado.

Labor shortages are increasingly affecting living conditions.

Expectations for Summit County buses this fall have dropped to 60 minutes, from 30 for a lack of 19 drivers, county transit director Chris Lubbers said. This disproportionately harms the low-wage cleaning, hospitality and retail workers who rely most on buses, Lubbers said. The remaining 48 conductors commute through the mountain tundra passes from Georgetown and Leadville to Summit County. As winter storms arrive, these drivers and police have been urged to keep a close watch on freezing residents as they wait.

At the Summit County seat of government, officials said the current 80 openings in a pool of 500 positions are the toughest public services ever.

On Eagle’s Main Street, the city’s often-crowded grocery store is still officially open until 11 p.m., a nod to workers who need to shop for food. But the grocery store is short of 40 workers and must close early at 9 p.m., managers and employees said, blaming challenges with COVID and the lack of affordable housing.

In kindergartens, beloved teachers who want to raise their own children must leave, shaking the foundations for the children. The closure of a restaurant in Eagle that served as a social hub weakened ties between local adults.

“And we are struggling to find police officers, 911 dispatchers. We offer high paying jobs with great benefits and yet we cannot fill many of our positions, even director positions,” said the commissioner of the Summit County Tamara Pogue noting that house prices have soared by over a million dollars and have become impossible for “the core of our middle class” who earn between $ 60,000 and $ 100,000.

“Our hospital is struggling with shortages. Our school district is in trouble. Almost all employers are in trouble. Traditionally it was our low paying jobs that were hard to fill, but now it’s our middle and higher paying jobs, ”said Pogue. “It’s tangible. You wait longer for things.

Meanwhile, county research has revealed that Colorado’s mountain towns are solidifying their position among the world’s most sought-after and visited “getaways”.

These towns are concentrated in an area the size of West Virginia. State and federal government data shows that approximately 86,000 housing units in 15 counties are vacant. The 2020 census data shows the vacancy rates in these counties as follows: Hinsdale 71%; Peak 58%; Mineral 65%; San Miguel 45%; Jackson 44%; Large 57%; Eagle 37%; Costille 34%; Rout 37%; San Juan 52%; Pitkin 39%; Firearms 41%; Park 44%; Client 46%; Archuleta 39%.

“We have vacant homes, but they are not available,” said Jon Stavney, director of the Northwestern Colorado Council of Governments, an association led by the leaders of six counties and 30 cities.

The problem is the prices, over $ 600,000 for a three-bedroom condo and over $ 1 million for houses, combined with rents up 20-40% since 2019. And builders continue to push back. ‘Install real estate mansions listed up to $ 50 million (Snowmass Falls Ranch in Pitkin County) and featured in prominent forums such as the Wall Street Journal’s “Experience Luxury” supplement. It celebrates a pandemic wave of “city dwellers who uprooted their lives” for “the full mountain life experience” because people “fell in love with living among the mountains”.

Researchers from the Northwestern Colorado Council of Governments recently completed a study of the pandemic influx in Summit, Eagle, Pitkin, Grand, Routt and San Miguel counties and concluded that a continued increase is accelerating the transformation into a paradise for visitors. According to the study, most visitors, part-time residents and newcomers have incomes over $ 150,000 per year, and a growing number earn over $ 300,000. In contrast, 60% of residents earned less than $ 150,000, typically between $ 60,000 and $ 100,000. The influx of COVID – people “are flocking from cities to high-quality places to live such as mountain communities” – has intensified direct competition for all forms of housing.

And “housing prices are reset” now, aligning with rising valuations attributed by a larger global economy.

“People who have lived here for a long time are becoming competitive in the rental market, which is new, and certainly in the property market,” said Stavney, who previously worked in the rental industry. construction and was a county commissioner and mayor.

“It changes the character of things. There are a lot of small cuts in the community web. You can feel it. You can see it. As the costs rise to be in this place, it is just not sustainable for the middle class and working people to be here, ”he said.

People who make a living outside of Rocky Mountain West “will want to come and they will continue to buy the houses. But they’re not really invested in the place like full-time residents are. When you’re invested, you’re on a board, take the kids to school, see friends at the post office and they get to know you. You have commitments. … .. These connections are getting weaker and weaker.

For years, government agencies in the state of Denver have promoted western Colorado for tourism and recreation, seen as a profitable “industry” for stimulating economic development.

But these agencies, and Governor Jared Polis, are hearing more and more about the consequences.

“Every local government has talked about housing,” said state demographer Elizabeth Garner.

The rush to west Colorado “is both a boon and a curse,” Garner said. Tourism, recreation and increased visits give cities “an economic livelihood” they need to survive, she said.

“The curse is what it does to house prices. This eliminates dwellings from residential units, places where people can live affordably. “

In recent years, nearly every city and county government in western Colorado has considered or adopted measures to try to control market forces by capping or regulating the short-term rentals allowed by the services. Internet such as Airbnb and Vrbo.

The idea is to preserve some affordable housing, said Margaret Bowes, director of the Colorado Association of Ski Towns, which follows the ordinances and observed this fall “a growing emergency.”

Meanwhile, local authorities are also pushing for an increase in construction of new housing, including subsidized hotels and dormitories, like the one proposed for preschool teachers and health workers in Summit County.

In Winter Park and Breckenridge, labor shortages have reached such a point that governments have launched “rent to locals” programs targeting homeowners. The Breckenridge pilot project that began Oct. 15 has paid 30 landlords up to $ 24,000 per year, on top of the rent they receive, in exchange for a lease of at least one year to a local worker. This allowed 65 local workers to stay in the Breckenridge area until next summer.

A tipping point may be near where labor shortages need to be addressed, as affluent visitors expect services. Finding room for locals will be necessary to maintain the attractions that attract visitors in the first place, Bowes said.

“You can’t manage a ski lift remotely. “

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