Summit County officials discuss strategies to alleviate housing ‘crisis’
Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue has described the housing problem in the area as a crisis on several occasions.
“It’s a crisis,” Pogue said on April 29. “It’s not something we’ve ever seen in Summit County, and while I admire the work the Summit County government has done in the 367 units we have built over the past five years . years, this kind of thinking will not necessarily lead us to a solution.
The County Commissioners Summit Council, along with other local leaders, listened to a presentation on housing needs hosted by the Summit Combined Housing Authority on April 29.
During this presentation, local leaders learned how dire the current housing situation in the county is. According to the data presented, more than a third of the entire building stock is listed for short-term rental. Currently, Summit County has a shortage of 725 units, which means the county needs a lot of new units to meet housing demand. This number is expected to climb to 2,400 units by 2023.
On Tuesday, May 4, commissioners and other county officials met again to discuss strategies to alleviate the problem as quickly as possible.
“Our goal on Tuesday was to put all possible ideas on the table, and obviously our housing folks need to go back and work on all these strategies, take a look at what’s most realistic to move. Needle quickly, which is no, definitely take a look at these ideas in relation to the budgetary impacts for the county, ”Pogue said.
Pogue said she hopes this proposed plan will be available within the next 30 days, although it is not a fixed timeline. She said she expects county staff to present a step-by-step approach that suggests short and long-term strategies to be implemented. Above all, she wants to see a package containing policies and programs that put the county in a better position when it comes to housing.
“What I would like us to do is kind of challenge some fundamental philosophies that we have had in the past about how we approach housing,” she says. “I think what we need … is – for lack of a better term – a housing stimulus program.”
An unexpected flip
So what has contributed to the current housing climate? Part of the problem is caused by an increase in employment in low-wage industries, such as the arts and entertainment. Another contributing factor is the amount of inventory available: 70% of the county’s housing supply is vacant and 30% is occupied housing, according to the most recent housing study.
Another part of the problem is due to the unexpected trends caused by the pandemic.
When COVID-19 began to impact Summit County, local officials expected house prices to drop. Summit County Housing Director Jason Dietz said his team expected to acquire more units as part of the county’s buyout program.. According to Dietz’s presentation, the program allows the county to buy a unit cheaply and at the market rate and restrict the deed of ownership on the property, thus forcing the occupant of the unit to work on time. full in Summit County and resell the unit at limited appreciation. .
Dietz said the program’s guidelines were to stick with $ 35,000 per room and sell it at a price to buyers who earn less than 100% of the area’s median income, or $ 67,300 for a single person and $ 96,100 for a family of four..
“COVID has completely changed that, and the listing prices for the homes we see (are) now … over $ 100,000 per room,” he said. “A $ 500,000 budget goes really fast when you spend $ 100,000 per room.”
Are existing programs working?
One solution proposed by Dietz is to continue to buy units through the buy-back program by means of subsidies and to resell them at a moderately reduced cost. Dietz estimated that this would save the county $ 20,000 per room and that the county would be able to resell those units for between $ 30,000 and $ 50,000 per room, depending on the unit and its location.
Another program that could help is the housing assistance program. According to Dietz’s presentation, the program prompts homeowners and sellers to de-restrict their properties to help maintain and support the homes of residents in the community.
Dietz noted during his presentation that since its launch, the county has not generated much interest in the housing assistance program from existing homeowners.
“We’ve only seen a few of these folks inquire about the situation and probably because the appreciation is rising so rapidly over the past two months that it seems to change drastically, and there isn’t as much of interest to this seller of a restriction of the act, ”said Dietz.
In those programs, Dietz reported that the county had $ 1 million to spend on buyouts and housing benefits. Because house prices are skyrocketing, he estimated the county could only absorb about three to eight units with existing budgets.
Could incentives help?
Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence noted that these programs still have high costs. In one example, she pointed out that it’s likely the county would have to pay $ 300,000 to subsidize a house before it could be restricted. At this point, Lawrence referred to a new construction.
“I think it’s hard to decide where our grant is going,” Lawrence said. “Is it better to try to make something new?”
Lawrence also said she was not sure the current housing market is in place to make the buyback program a success. Instead, she offered incentives the county could use to convert short-term rentals to long-term rentals.
Lawrence used arbitrary numbers to demonstrate his line of thinking: let’s say the owner of a short-term rental earns $ 3,000 per month. If that same owner turned his property into a long-term unit, he could earn $ 2,000 per month. Lawrence suggested some sort of subsidy that would compensate for the loss.
Pogue noted that around 10% of residents rent out short-term properties and suggested the county try to target those units and turn them into long-term housing.
Summit County Commissioner Josh Blanchard said beyond the financial incentive, the county should also develop some kind of incentive for short-term rental owners who use their property sporadically throughout. year round.
Explore a new construction
“Can we build our way?” Dietz asked rhetorically. “Probably not if you look at the total budgets for this actual deficit.”
During his presentation, he said the county’s housing budget was almost $ 6.5 million at the start of 2021.
Previous projects completed by the county cost about $ 300,000 per unit to build. If built today, Dietz said the projects would cost nearly $ 400,000 per unit. Taking into account the current deficit, Dietz estimated that it would cost more than a billion dollars to “get out of this” housing problem.
While construction isn’t the only solution, officials agree that building new units will be one of the strategies used to alleviate the county’s housing problem. During his presentation, Dietz reported that the county has 531 plots in Summit. Of these, 14 are deemed developable in addition to four plots currently designated as open spaces, including Fiester Preserve.
“It’s somewhat breathtaking to me that out of the 37,683 plots in Summit County, we only owned 531,” Pogue said.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the team reviewed 16 plots of county-owned land that could be sites for potential projects.
Some of the plots the team examined are more likely to be developed than others. For example, a parcel near Soda Creek Condos in Summit Cove belongs to the county. The team determined that the 0.2 acres could be easily developed, albeit a very small area. Pogue suggested placing tiny houses on the plot.
Other plots, including about 2 acres in Bill’s Ranch, would be more difficult to develop due to opposition from neighboring neighbors. A parcel is identified in the Upper Blue master plan as being part of a staging area. Another plot contains steep slopes which would be difficult to develop. Others would relocate the parking lot or require rezoning.
Find a way forward
To conclude his presentation, Dietz identified other methods to be implemented in the near future. One would be to modify the current housing code to better encourage the construction of housing for the workforce, in particular rentals.
Another proposed strategy was to reduce or eliminate the county planning, engineering and construction department fees for homeowners and developers who built housing for the workforce. The county could also partner with Habitat for Humanity or other groups to develop additional low-median-income housing. Dietz also proposed to change the current zoning requirements and practices.
Above all, officials agreed that a county-wide effort was needed to address the housing shortage.
“More than ever, it’s going to be about partnership, creative thinking and very hard work on how we’re going to get through this, because it could completely – or completely change – the fabric of our community very, very quickly if we can’t house working people (here), ”Lawrence said. “It has always made Summit County so special. Our responsibility at this time is to maintain that. “