New Approaches to Affordable Housing in Resort Communities
Affordable housing in resort communities are not nearly as common as you might hope, but Colorado resort towns have a few programs aimed at changing that.
Many cities within the U.S. are currently experiencing an affordable housing crisis. Nowhere is that more apparent than resort communities where unprecedented increases in the cost of housing have brought significant challenges to both current and future residents. Sperling’s Best Places finds housing in Aspen costs 707.4% more than the national average; while Vail housing costs 397% more than the average; Glenwood Springs, 215.7% more; Steamboat Springs, 257% more; and Telluride 391% more.
To maintain the employees that make tourism possible in these mountain communities, workers need affordable places to live. Without resort staff, service professionals, government workers, or first responders, visitors and residents may not be able to enjoy the amenities and activities that make these areas so special. Local governments in tourism-centric communities, such as Breckenridge, Vail and Aspen, are working to find creative ways to ensure that the local workforce can afford to live where they work. While this process can take time, innovative ideas are yielding positive results and making an immediate impact on how affordable housing is funded and provided.
The Town of Breckenridge employs a variety of policies, strategies and incentives to combat the affordable housing crisis. Many of the programs are funded through a combination of voter-approved county-wide taxes, development impact fees, grants and short-term rental fees.
The town’s Housing Helps program incentivizes homeowners and real estate investors to deed-restrict their property to help maintain and sustain affordable homes. The program provides funds to local homeowners and apartment developers to permanently deed-restrict their homes or units, incorporating workforce requirements and income caps. The program can also be used by locals looking to buy a home, with Housing Helps funds available for around 15% of the purchase price of the home in exchange for a deed restriction. As of summer 2022, the Housing Helps program produced 58 deed-restricted market-rate units for the community.
In a combined effort with their deed-restriction efforts, the town has acquired land for the purpose of constructing new rental and for-sale affordable housing. Both rental and for-sale affordable housing have been built on town land and are under construction on the Block 11 and McCain subdivisions.
Finally, the town’s Lease to Locals program, a partnership between the town and a private organization called Landing Locals, provides cash incentives to property managers and property owners to convert their short-term rentals into seasonal and long-term rentals. The cash incentives can range up to $20,000 per property depending on unit size and the length of the lease.
The Vail InDEED program was developed in 2017, with the goal of acquiring 1,000 additional residential housing units by the year 2027. The program required the town to view housing as infrastructure, which resulted in a shift in both thinking and funding. The program has seen $12 million in investment from the town through the General Fund, and in its first four years resulted in the deed restriction of 165 units, including two full multifamily developments. In 2021 alone, the town invested more than $900,000 in the InDEED program which resulted in the conversion of 12 market-rate units to deed-restricted units.
The City of Aspen’s Certificates of Affordable Housing Credits Program was originally established in 2010 through a citizen-initiated code amendment, creating a new system to encourage the private development of affordable housing. The city has long required affordable housing mitigation for most development, and this program created a mechanism for developers to build affordable housing without a mitigation requirement.
Based on the principles of a transferable development rights program, the credits program allows a private developer to build new affordable housing units and sell a “certificate of affordable housing credit” to another developer who has a separate housing mitigation requirement. This program enables the housing developer to rent or sell the housing units to qualified local working residents and to separately sell the housing credit, creating an additional revenue stream for the project that would help make it financially viable.
The housing credits created from these units have been used to mitigate single-family homes, lodges, commercial spaces and multi-family units instead of those projects building one-off housing units or providing a cash-in-lieu payment.
As resort communities in Colorado and nationwide struggle to provide affordable housing options to their residents, governments must continue to develop and test a suite of solutions to build and secure additional affordable units. While valuable lessons can be learned from the success of Breckenridge, Vail and Aspen’s affordable housing programs, new solutions must continue to be pursued. With the passage of Proposition 123 and the dedication of $300 million annually to affordable housing projects, local governments must develop a comprehensive housing strategy to identify how funds will most effectively be used to solve the housing needs of their communities.
Even as interest rates rise, housing prices in tourism-centric communities are anticipated to remain well above the national average in 2023. If additional affordable housing is not purchased and/or developed, resort communities will continue to struggle with maintaining an adequate workforce to support the amenities and activities that make them wonderful places to visit. Addressing affordable housing through targeted programs and policies is no longer an optional endeavor, but rather a critical first step in protecting the long-term economic well-being and character of so many resort communities.