FRISCO — Summit County’s Family & Intercultural Resource Center has announced that its 3-year-old Housing Works Initiative has helped nearly 100 Summit County residents find long-term rental housing. The Housing Works program connects Summit County workers in need of housing with landlords willing to convert their vacation or short-term rental properties into long-term housing.

The program, which is supported by The Summit Foundation, seeks to put a dent in the county’s shortage of housing for full-time workers. Recent figures from the state demographer’s office reveal that 68% of Summit County’s housing units are vacant, meaning they are not lived in for a majority of the year or are used as short-term rentals. That leaves very few units available for long-term or yearlong leases, compounding the extremely high cost of living in Summit.

When it started nearly four years ago, Housing Works leased 15 housing units to local workers. Now, 32 units are leased with more units coming online every month. Housing Works has helped 67 working adults and 30 children find long-term housing in Summit County, people who otherwise might be forced to find housing in places like Grand, Lake or Park counties.

“Personally, I am very grateful for FIRC,” Norma, one of Housing Works’ first tenants, wrote in Spanish in a letter to the nonprofit. “Thanks to you, I have had a secure place to live for the past four years. All of the staff are attentive and try to help. Thanks to Housing Works, I have a safe place to live with my family.”

Aside from helping workers live near where they work, Housing Works also boosts the local permanent workforce pool, from which businesses draw, as well as helps build up the local permanent resident community.

Anita Overmyer, the organization’s marketing and events director, said families in secure and stable housing situations are able to be better parents, employees and community members, which is the foundation of the resource center’s mission in Summit County.

Michel Infante, the resource center’s supportive services manager, oversees the Housing Works program. He said the organization works with local real estate and property management group Omni Real Estate to connect with property owners who would be willing to convert their short-term, former owner-occupied or newly purchased properties into long-term rentals. 

Omni surveys potential properties and agrees to a monthly rental price with the property owner in line with the caps the resource center sets for rentals. To avoid putting people in a position where they become cost-burdened, rents are capped at $1,500 for one bedrooms or studios, $2,100 for two-bedroom units and $2,600 for three-bedroom units. 

Even with the cap, the resource center does not rent units to potential tenants if their rent-to-income ratio exceeds 50%. This is a safety measure for the tenants and landlords to ensure the tenants will be able to pay their rent and to avoid a situation where they are unable to pay for other necessities, like food and utilities.

Scholarships are available through various sources to help potential tenants pay rent if they are just over the rent-to-income ratio.

After a property becomes available, the resource center advertises it through various outlets. Infante screens potential tenants, and if they are approved for a unit, they connect with Omni real estate, who handles the leasing arrangements

The program is sold to property owners with numbers showing how much more financially sensible it is to lease their units long-term than short-term or vacation rentals. Homeowners can stand to make $10,000 more a year renting through Housing Works than they might through short-term rentals. 

For example, a two-bedroom short-term rental unit usually has as much as 35% of costs going toward property management, while it’s usually about 6.5% for long-term rentals. Combined with the resource center’s screening process, property owners have more of a guarantee they will get a stable tenant who will provide a consistent rental income, as opposed to the inconsistency of relying on tourists, who might not visiting during shoulder seasons.

The Recourse Center reported that 96% of tenants wound up resigning their leases and staying in the program.

“Renting our condo through FIRC’s Housing Works Initiative has brought us peace of mind,” homeowner Kyle Hendricks said in a testimonial about the program. “We rely on the rental income to pay our mortgage, and by renting through Housing Works, we know we will get that payment consistently. It also feels good knowing that we are contributing in our small way to be part of the solution to Summit County’s housing crisis. By providing a long-term rental unit in our community, one more family can have a safe and stable place to live.”

The resource center is aiming to have 45 units available in its program but will grow further as more units become available. Units get rented as soon as they are listed and are rented on a first-come, first-served basis with no waiting list. The nonprofit advertises the units through various channels, including its own website at SummitFIRC.org, the Summit Daily News and social media.

Homeowners interested in listing their properties for long-term leases through Housing Works should contact Community Resource Coordinator Caitlin Johnson at [email protected] or call 970-455-0236.