Can Eagle County match Summit’s housing-fund success? | VailDaily.com

Can Eagle County match Summit’s housing-fund success?

New homes are being constructed in the Stratton Flats neighborhood Sunday in Gypsum. Houses are built with the help of volunteers and offered to low-income families at affordable prices.

EAGLE COUNTY — As voters here ponder a county proposal to raise sales taxes to help pay for worker housing, Summit County voters are being asked to expand an existing program.

Summit County voters in 2006 approved a small sales tax increase — 0.125 percent. The measure passed narrowly and was supposed to expire in 10 years.

When county officials asked voters in 2015 to make the tax permanent, that question passed with 77 percent of the vote.

That's because Summit County's housing program has been a success. Using roughly $1.4 million per year as seed money for everything from land purchases to paying for utilities to complete projects, the Summit Combined Housing Authority has helped build about 350 new housing units. All but 68 of those units are deed-restricted, for-sale homes. The new neighborhoods in Breckenridge and Frisco are bustling, and the one in Frisco is filled with rapidly-growing families.

Money from Summit's housing fund has gone primarily toward land purchases, paying for water and sewer tap fees, and other elements that make parcels attractive to private developers. And developers have responded.

Asking voters again

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Summit County isn't done yet. Voters this year are being asked to approve a 0.6 percent sales tax to fund construction of new housing. The biggest potential project is near Frisco, between Interstate 70 and the Dillon Dam Road. Summit County bought the 40-plus acre parcel from the U.S. Forest Service in 2015. The county, the housing authority and local communities are now working on a plan for the land. When that plan is finished, Summit Combined Housing Authority Executive Director Jennifer Kermode expects the project to add between 350 and 450 units of for-sale and rental housing to the area.

Kermode is the authority's original director, coming aboard in late 2007. Asked to evaluate the success of the housing program, Kermode had a quick answer.

"We've exceeded expectations in terms of units created and in services the staff has been able to offer, Kermode said.

Those services are fairly wide-ranging, especially considering that the housing authority has a paid full-time staff of four and an annual operating budget of less than $450,000. Services include helping potential buyers with everything from down payment assistance to financial education.

Vail Community Development Department Director George Ruther said the Summit County system has been successful because it combines three elements into one whole: a goal, a method and means. "Means," in this case, refers to money, the stable funding source.

Changing the market?

Town of Vail officials are looking for funding stability as part of a 10-year plan to boost workforce housing. Given that Vail is short on land, the plan anticipates buying deed restrictions from willing sellers. As opposed to the relative complexity of most deed restrictions in resort areas, Vail's idea is simple: a residency and local employment requirement.

Ruther and other town officials have put a lot of time into studying various workforce housing programs. Ruther said that regardless of how a community raises money, it must raise money for programs.

"You need something that's consistent, predictable and adequate. … It also has to be equitably applied," Ruther said. "It appears that Summit County and (its towns) have come up with a funding mechanism that meets those criteria."

Vail Town Council member Greg Moffet has long had workforce housing at the top of his governmental to-do list. Moffet is also a fan of Summit County's system, and supports Eagle County's proposal this year for a 0.3 percent sales tax to fund workforce housing efforts here.

"I want to see it passed, and I believe all the money going toward this will be well spent over time," Moffet said, before adding a "but." That "but" focuses on how this proposal came to be.

"What's your story about how this money is going to be spent?" Moffet said, adding that the Eagle County proposal "looks a little rushed," a response to the current shortage of workforce housing.

Eagle County could use a combined housing authority similar to that in Summit County, Moffet said, adding that the Vail Local Housing Authority could be quickly expanded to include the entire Eagle River Valley.

Moffet said he's also opposed to a model that "means tests" renters and buyers, dictating what someone can afford and move into.

"I just wish our county had the game to do what Summit's doing," he said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com or @scottnmiller.

What we’re voting on

What: Ballot measure 1A.

Sponsor: Eagle County.

What it is: A .3 percent sales tax increase that would be dedicated to housing.

What it would raise: An estimated $5 million per year.

Election Day: Nov. 8.