By Jamie Leary

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Affordable housing in the high country reached a crisis level faster than most community leaders ever predicted. As a result, initiatives to tackle the crisis have popped up in elections more than ever before.

In Summit County, where this year, several towns made an emergency housing declaration, voters were asked to authorize a 20-year extension of the .6% sales tax they approved in 2016 (5A).

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According to Rob Murphy, executive director for the Summit Combined Housing Authority, said with a 20-year extension 6B would give local jurisdictions the ability to borrow against future taxes.

(credit: CBS)

“This will generate more funding for projects now and in the next several years, meaning that local jurisdictions take action now, rather than waiting until 2026 to be sure that the affordable housing tax will be approved by voters for an extension,” Murphy stated in an email.

Murphy said revenues from 5A, which total nearly $50 million, have helped fund several key affordable housing projects since voters passed it in 2016:

  • Smith Ranch in Silverthorne
  • Several projects in Breckenridge, including the Blue 52 Townhomes and Huron Landing, as well as the Town’s Buy Down program
  • Mary Ruth Place in Frisco, and the Town’s Buy Down program
  • County Rd 51 project in Dillon (in development)

The biggest issue is affordable housing developments in a county are in high demand, and when you’re surrounded by forest service land, it’s hard to build more.

“There’s just literally no availability for people to get into housing. We have just a bunch of really hopeless clients that don’t really know where to turn,” said Brianne Snow, Executive Director of the Family and Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC).

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Snow said the situation continues to get worse. The organization can provide food, rental assistance, and many other resources, but it’s of little consolation when the rental units and long-term homes are hard to come by.

“We have places that we use that you can income qualify for, but none of those places have any availability. You’re on a waiting list, and it’s just getting more and more difficult. We have families that have worked here for, ya know, five, ten years that would love to get out of their rental situation that keeps changing and purchase a home, but they have no options either so it’s just a desperate situation across the board whatever income you are,” said Snow.

She says right now there are even people who come to the food market at FIRC asking for sleeping bags.

“Whether that means living in their car or living out in the woods, there’s a variety of situations that people are finding themselves in and without inventory for them to move into, it’s incredibly difficult.”

Snow says FIRC has had its own employees leave town over the last several months.

“We are absolutely losing the heart and soul of our community. Our community members are what makes this a destination for tourists,” she said. “Right now, we have a lot of people that are very interested in creating those solutions, and I think we should look at every single potential solution in order to build up a community that we can be proud of. I don’t think that there’s one answer, there’s no one silver bullet. We have a very committed community that knows that housing is an issue, and I just hope that everybody understands that anything we can do to help this situation is… it’s an emergency right now.”

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If measure 6B passes in Summit County, the tax would expire in 2047 unless it’s renewed again.

Jamie Leary