Founded as one of the original 17 Colorado counties in 1861, Summit County is located in the heart of the Centennial State in the peaks of the Rockies, just a little more than 70 miles from Denver.
The county, which includes towns such as Blue Ridge and Breckenridge, has an estimated population of 30,983.
Like Lake Havasu City, Summit County’s top industry in its economy is tourism and recreation. According to a report from the Colorado Tourism Office, tourism spending reached $1.11 billion in Summit County in 2018.
Housing Director Jason Dietz says that it seems like Summit County has been dealing with the issue of workforce housing for decades. In the past Dietz says one way the county has addressed the situation is by creating deed-restricted housing with the county having more than 2,000 deed-restricted properties before 2020.
However, the covid-19 pandemic added a new dimension to the workforce housing issue, exasperating an existing problem and leading Summit County Commissioners to declare a housing crisis proclamation in June of this year.
“Just before the pandemic we had finished up a housing needs assessment that indicated we needed an additional 2,000 units, primarily low AMI rentals,” Dietz said. “I would say that we probably need closer to 3,000 units now.”
Dietz says that when the pandemic started and shutdowns began taking effect, a lot of Summit County’s workforce left the area to search for employment. As tourism and resort workers moved out, though, workers from metropolitan areas like Denver who could work remotely moved in.
Now that the economy has reopened, all businesses and industry in Summit County are feeling the loss of those that left, Dietz said.
“Every business, every government, every town and jurisdiction is struggling with hiring open positions,” Dietz said. “I am not aware of any industry in Summit County that isn’t struggling.”
Dietz says that the county’s plan to address the workforce housing situation will be a multi-prong approach focusing on building more housing, preserving existing workforce housing and converting short term rentals to long term rentals.
According to Dietz, the county has started to identify opportunity zones for places where workforce housing is needed. Dietz says these zones are areas that traditionally had workforce housing but are now filled with short term rentals.
“We are not trying to convert short term rentals in Keystone or Copper Mountain because those resort areas were built for short term rentals,” Dietz said. “That makes sense to have short term rentals there but in other areas that have always housed the local workforce that is starting to get a lot more short term rentals licenses in place, we want to focus on them and see if we convert and incentivize some of those owners to long term rent.”
Dietz says the county is currently developing those incentives along with taking a look at modifying land use codes to make building workforce housing easier and more attractive for developers.