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Breckenridge commits $50 million to ambitious workforce housing plan

The driveways of condominiums at Winterpoint Townhomes are pictured Feb. 18 in Breckenridge. The town of Breckenridge plans to invest $50 million to bring 970 affordable housing units to the town.
Michael Yearout/For the Summit Daily News

A Breckenridge plan to invest $50 million into workforce housing over the next five years could result in 970 additional units for workers living within town limits.

The Breckenridge Town Council gave its approval of the Five-Year Housing Blueprint at its meeting Tuesday, Feb. 22. The blueprint outlines the town’s goal to have 47% of the town’s workforce living in Breckenridge. Additionally, the plan aims to create a balance of 35% resident housing to 65% vacation or resort lodging in the community.

Although Breckenridge itself will be committing $50 million, town officials hope to leverage partnerships and projects with private developers and existing homeowners into a total $300 million investment into housing over the next five years.

The town’s short-term rental fee, which the council passed in November 2021, will help fund the $50 million investment. The fee requires every short-term rental license owner to pay $400 per bedroom to support the town’s workforce housing initiatives.

“There has been a lot of questioning of ‘what are we doing with our money’ in the last few months,” Town Manager Rick Holman said at Tuesday’s meeting. “… While we’ve always known that we’re doing great things, this is a step that we can possibly point to.”

The ultimate goal is to reach 970 new units. Broken down, town officials anticipate around 600 newly constructed apartments and homes and 370 existing units converted to long-term workforce housing.

Town officials felt it was time to address what has become a “housing crisis,” said Laurie Best, planning manager for housing and child care at the town of Breckenridge. By 2023, Breckenridge is expected to have a housing need of 1,173 units, according to the 2020 Summit County Needs Assessment.

With the onset of the pandemic, preexisting housing issues in Breckenridge and Summit County have only escalated with many employers struggling to hire because potential employees can’t find a place to live, Best said.

“Our employers are unable to recruit and retain employees,” she said. “The people that have been here for a while are often making difficult decisions to relocate and move away. So it felt like the right time to take a big and bold step forward.”

The town is already involved in three ongoing workforce housing projects. Construction has already begun on the first phase of the Alta Verde project, which will bring a total of 80 apartments to the McCain property between Coyne Valley Road and the Fairview Boulevard roundabout. The council gave final approval to Alta Verde II on Tuesday, which will add 172 low-income units on the McCain property.

Another project at the Summit County Justice Center is expected to add 98 units, and the Block 11 project on Dredge Drive will add 27 deed-restricted units by January 2023.

Best said the town plans to pursue partnerships with developers like Gorman & Co, which is working on the Alta Verde project, to add more workforce housing over the next five years. However, new construction alone won’t solve the problem, she said.

“We cannot and do not want to build our way out of this,” Best said.

She said the constraints on a resort community, like a lack of available land, prevent the town from being able to solve housing issues with construction. The town plans to leverage its existing programs — Housing Helps and Buy Downs — to influence current homeowners to convert already existing units into long-term affordable housing.

The programs incentivize homeowners who are selling their homes to add deed restrictions so that they aren’t later converted to short-term rental properties.

“If you were to build everything brand new, you would overburden the town to a greater extent than we’re already at,” Mayor Eric Mamula said at the meeting. “That’s why the Buy Down program is so important.”

All of the Town Council members were supportive of the plan. Best said staff will be presenting updates on the plan twice a year at public Town Council meetings.

Summit County, towns discuss emergency declaration as affordable housing shortage intensifies

New housing units in the Smith Ranch neighborhood in Silverthorne are under construction Monday, May 31. Summit County municipalities are considering emergency declarations related to housing.
Photo by Sawyer D'Argonne / sdargonne@summitdaily.com

Summit County and local towns are considering an emergency declaration to help address the local affordable housing shortage and emphasize the increasingly dire circumstances of the issue to state and federal partners.

Commissioner Tamara Pogue said the county is already drafting language for a declaration and is hoping to make the move in conjunction with local towns.

“I’ve been working on housing in Summit County for 15 years, and this is far and way the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said Pogue, the former executive director of the Family & Intercultural Resource Center. “I think it actually is connected to things that happened in our community during the pandemic. We know that a lot of folks moved into our community full time. … I think that has significantly impacted our housing stock, and has contributed to the tightness in the market and the availability of workforce housing that we currently don’t have.

“So I think we have to call it what it is. … This isn’t a new problem for us. But it is significantly worse than it’s ever been. Prices are higher, availability is lower and there are more people living here.”

According to the most recent Summit County Housing Needs Update published in March 2020, there is a countywide gross gap of more than 1,200 housing units, a number that’s expected to more than double by 2023. Officials said the issue has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which spurred an exodus of seasonal workers who were later priced out by a record-breaking year in the real estate market as more remote workers and second-home owners took up residence.

Frisco Mayor Hunter Mortensen said despite Frisco’s best efforts in recent years to combat the lack of affordable housing for members of the town’s workforce, the problem has persisted to the point where it’s become a “real and dangerous threat to our way of life in Frisco.”

Mortensen said he doesn’t blame the newcomers — Frisco is a great place to live — but the housing shortage has created an overly competitive landscape were the town and local businesses are pitted against each other for employees. Given the government’s reliance on local businesses to succeed, the situation is far from ideal.

“We can’t get any bigger,” Mortensen said. “We’ve built to our outer limits. Our ability to get more units is extremely limited by that, and that’s part of what’s facilitating this push for a declaration and looking at this as an emergency. I think seeing that then creates the issue of how do we get from 60% second-home owners and bring that number down, get some more rental units … get more real estate that forever was where people lived and now are getting squeezed out by the folks who are coming in and can work a really high paying job remotely.

“That then affects all of our local businesses, because we are losing that workforce. Right now, it’s set us up in a position where all of the towns are competing with all of our businesses for workers. And that’s a terrible setup to be in as a community because the town doesn’t exist without successful businesses.”

Graphic by Taylor Sienkiewicz / tsienkiewicz@summitdaily.com

Breckenridge is also supportive of an emergency declaration or anything that will help with the current housing situation, according to Breckenridge Town Council member Dick Carleton.

“We’re going to assess the best way to do it, whether it’s individually or together (with other governments),” Carleton said. “But we’re certainly supportive. We’re working really hard with housing, and we want to do anything that may help with funding or to get some support from the state or the feds.”

Towns have developed programs over recent years to help keep the workforce in the county, such as the Housing Helps programs developed by Breckenridge and Frisco that pay new or existing property owners to place deed restrictions on their units. But the initiatives may have been too little too late.

“We lost the race, and the buying power of people coming to town became way more powerful than we could keep up with,” Mortensen said.

While areas like Frisco are out of land to develop, building more housing is still a key tactic for other towns like Silverthorne. Town Manager Ryan Hyland said the town is in conversations with contractors to bring more rental units to the Smith Ranch area and the Fourth Street North development that would target specific community members based on income.

As the county and other towns prepare for an emergency declaration, Silverthorne is expected to pursue other options, Hyland said. He noted that the Silverthorne Town Council could consider other avenues to further bring the issue to light, such as a proclamation that would stop short of declaring a formal emergency. But the town hasn’t downplayed the housing issues that have developed of late.

“(Silverthorne) used to be a bit more affordable than some of the other areas,” Hyland said. “It’s just caught up really quickly. Willowbrook is the type of neighborhood that historically we would look at as something a lot of locals were considering — maybe a first home is something that would be possible. And we’re seeing prices at $800,000 and up now. While it’s not maybe at the same level as it would be in Breckenridge, it’s still really out of touch.

“There could be at least a couple hundred rental units that we could bring online … but the challenge is you’re a couple years away from getting folks into units. So while we’re excited about those opportunities, they’re not anything that’s immediate.”

The entrance to Smith Ranch in Silverthorne is pictured May 14, 2020. The Silverthorne Town Council recently gave the green light to Phase 5 of the workforce housing neighborhood.
Photo by Liz Copan / Summit Daily archives

It’s also unclear if Dillon will join in the declaration. Mayor Carolyn Skowyra said the Dillon Town Council hasn’t formally broached the topic, but council members do intend to have the conversation at some point. Skowyra spoke for herself, saying that she was disinclined to make any sort of declaration unless it would lead to an actionable response.

“It makes all the sense in the world if it helps us to an end product that helps the situation,” Skowyra said. “If we’re not going to be taking any measurable action, I’m not sure it’s a wise use of an emergency declaration. But we’re going to talk about it.”

Officials planning to move forward with an emergency declaration are hoping that it will bring more people to the table to find solutions, including short-term rental owners who might be swayed to try long-term renting once the impacts of the workforce shortage begin to manifest this summer or business owners who might work with developers to build more housing for their own employees.

Local leaders also hope the declaration would better highlight the need for state and federal support to address the issue. State Rep. Julie McCluskie, who serves Summit County and the rest of Colorado’s District 61, said housing solutions have become a top priority for legislators at the Capitol. McCluskie is a sponsor of House Bill 21-1271, a bill meant to remove barriers and provide incentives for the development of affordable housing by local governments.

If passed, the bill would allocate $13 million — potentially up to $48 million if an amendment to the bill is passed — to create grant programs for governments that adopt policies and regulations that promote affordable housing development.

But the bigger boon will come from $3.8 billion in federal stimulus money coming to Colorado as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. McCluskie said the state is planning to set aside between $400 million and $500 million to invest in housing initiatives throughout the state. There’s no set plan for how exactly that money will be spent — those details would likely be finalized in the next legislative session — but McCluskie said that amount of money represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the long-term housing conversation in Colorado.

“We have never had $400 (million) or $500 million to invest in something as critical as housing,” McCluskie said. “To have this opportunity to make real, lasting impact on the affordable housing supply and inventory I think is very powerful — a moment that deserves the time, the attention, the conversation and collaboration with all of the key partners and leaders across the state who are intimately aware of what the problems are.”

Rep. Julie McCluskie speaks at an event Sept. 3, 2020, in Dillon. She is a sponsor of House Bill 21-1271, which is meant to remove barriers and provide incentives for the development of affordable housing by local governments.
Photo by Jason Connolly / Jason Connolly Photography