Housing meeting spotlights problems
February 2, 2016
By the numbers
$13 million: Money raised since 2007 by a Summit County housing tax package.
$15 million: Estimated economic impact of a new 41-unit townhome project in Breckenridge.
5,800: Approximate number of long-term rental units in Eagle County.
250: Decline in Eagle County long-term rentals units since 2008.
EDWARDS — Soup and sandwiches will generally get people to turn out on a Thursday night. But it takes talk about housing to fill a room.
On Thursday, the Eagle County commissioners hosted the first of what they say will be several community conversations about housing and other topics. A group of people ranging from long-term locals and various government officials to residents with long commutes showed up to listen and talk.
The talking came from panelists who came from Summit and Garfield counties, as well as Eagle County Housing Coordinator Jill Klosterman and area developer Lance Badger.
From Glenwood Springs, Jillian Sutherland, of Community Builders, an area nonprofit, talked about the challenges faced by both she and her husband and another couple.
Sutherland and her husband were able to move quickly and bought a home in about 2012. Just a few years later, the other couple, the Smiths, started looking to buy, only to discover they'd been priced out of the market.
People leaving instead of buying affects both employment and local society, Sutherland said.
That problem is more pronounced in Eagle County, where a combination of scarce and expensive land, high building costs and low wages compared to the rest of the state have stymied many efforts to build more homes for the county's working families.
Summit County has had some success building workforce housing over the past decade or so, adding roughly 300 new units of for-sale housing — all deed-restricted to limit future appreciation.
To fund those projects — 10 new neighborhoods in Frisco, Silverthorne and Breckenridge — Summit County and its towns in 2006 asked voters for a tax package that includes a 0.125 percent sales tax and an impact fee of $2 per square foot on all non-restricted construction.
Jennifer Kermode, of the Summit Combined Housing Authority, said that initial tax package passed with about 56 percent of the vote. In 2013, a few years ahead of that tax's 10-year expiration, the authority went to voters to ask to make the tax package permanent. It passed with 74 percent of the vote.
Eagle County doesn't have anything like that, of course.
Beyond finding a funding source, something agreed upon in a room filled with officials, residents, developers and real estate professionals, there's also the matter of just who's going to live in homes that might be built.
Eagle County Controller Tom Hyatt split the current housing problem into two parts — seasonal employees and young families.
"The question is whether housing is an issue for the county or for the cities," Hyatt said, referring in particular to Vail and Avon.
Longtime real estate broker Mike Budd added that in addition to housing that working families can afford, the county as a community also needs to somehow address jobs for people.
"What we've been doing hasn't accomplished that objective," Budd said. "We need a more multifaceted approach."
If the towns and county can somehow build housing, Gypsum resident Seth Levy said it's likely that tech and other professional companies might be waiting to move from the Denver area to the mountains.
But getting housing built in Eagle County can be an arduous job. Developer Lance Badger, who in the latter years of the previous decade shepherded a project through the county process — that project fell victim to the economic slump that began in 2008 — said the project required eight public hearings before the Eagle County Planning Commission and another 12 with the Eagle County commissioners. That cost the developers $1.2 million, he said.
Kermode said Summit County's communities hammered out a plan in advance of any employee housing developments. That required 19 public meetings, all of which were "hell," Kermode said.
In the end, though, the plan was created, the funding allowed public-private partnerships to be negotiated, and about 350 units to be built.
Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry said Eagle County needs to get to work on its own projects.
"If we don't address affordability, we risk losing something special here," she said. "Figuring out that conundrum is going to take new ideas, incentives and public funding options. But we'll stay engaged on this."
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com or @scottnmiller.