Study: Summit County needs more than 2,500 housing units in next five years to meet needs of workforce

Summit County needs 2,528 more housing units, both rental and for-sale, to meet the needs of its workforce in the next five years, according to a 2023 housing needs assessment. 

The findings, presented as part of a final draft during a Sept. 5 Summit Board of County Commissioners meeting, are the culmination of a months-long study led by Root Policy Research and commissioned by local officials earlier this year. 

The analysis touched on a wide range of data points, including the county’s short-term rental inventory, average rent and home costs, population of in-and-out commuters as well as incomes of working families to provide a broad look at the county’s housing landscape.

Researchers and community advocates also conducted a survey of Spanish- and English-speaking residents that revealed stark disparities in the housing experiences of Spanish speakers. 

Amid home costs that can stretch into the millions, and average monthly rent that ranges from $2,000 to $6,000 or more depending on bedrooms, increasing income-based supply is a crucial step to ensuring adequate housing for working families, said Root Policy Research managing director and co-founder Heidi Aggeler. 

“Part of being a really wonderful place is that there’s tremendous demand,” Aggeler said. “I think you can be creative and accomplish both more units on the ground without disrupting the environment too much.” 

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In total, the county should find ways, either through building or converting, to add 1,218 rental units and 1,310 for-sale units over the next five years — an annual average of 244 and 262, respectively. That’s in addition to the 804 rental units and 555 for-sale units already planned to be built in the county in that same time. 

The projections were made through an analysis of how many working county residents and in-commuters are currently experiencing housing insecurity, Aggeler said. 

The new units should be affordable to families making up to 150% of the area median income, which translates to $166,200 for a family of four. However, most of the proposed rental units should be targeted to families making 31% to 80% of the median income, Aggeler said.

That recommendation came from interviews with renter focus groups which voiced a need for monthly rents offered between $600 and $1,000, Aggeler said. 

“A lot of the units that are planned to be developed are slightly higher priced than that,” Aggeler said. “And so that does cost-burden renters a little bit, but not as badly as they would be without those units.”

Area median income is a “tricky thing for rural resort areas in Colorado,” Aggeler said, because it is set largely by the federal government and stipulates federal funding for local housing projects. Local officials have long felt Summit County’s median income ranges were inaccurate but have been dictated to only offer subsidized rental housing at a range typically between 30% and 110%.

The result is many residents either make too little or slightly too much to qualify for subsidized housing, Aggeler said. 

To deliver the recommended units, Aggeler told county officials they should aggressively pursue funding through Proposition 123, the statewide affordable housing fund, as well as explore ways to repurpose existing stock and increase density in certain residential areas — a key consideration of the county’s current effort to overhaul its land-use code

Officials should also find ways to better promote housing resources and opportunities, especially to Spanish speakers, a demographic that largely reported being unaware of what options exist in the county, Aggeler said. 

One solution could be creating a housing resource coordinator office that would serve as a “one stop shop” for housing applications and resources.

Summit Combined Housing Authority executive director Andrew Stackhouse said this remains a top priority for his organization, but it remains complicated. The singular challenge, Stackhouse said, is that property management companies that run many of the county’s workforce developments — such as Gorman & Co. — facilitate their own application process. 

“I would love to say it’s a next year thing. It might be a year after next year thing,” Stackhouse said. 

Commissioner Tamara Pogue said, “It frustrates me that we don’t have one of these. … This is like, the lowest of the lowest hanging fruit that we got.” 

“That is an easy answer to help folks,” she said. “It is a particularly easy answer to help folks that are at the lowest prongs and the most marginalized in our community.”

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