Part 7: Land donations aid Summit Co. efforts

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— By the end of September, Eric Bell will be able to look out his window, stare across Locals Lane and into the house of his friend, Gerhard "Dutch" VanAndel.

By the time the snow falls, Bell, a ski lift operations supervisor in Breckenridge will be able to see his office the ski slopes from his master bedroom.

After working for the Breckenridge Ski Area for more than 25 years, both Bell and VanAndel are finally getting a piece of this ski town's pie. The two will be one of the many Breckenridge locals to move into the 40 units in Summit County's newest affordable housing project, Gibson Heights.

The three-bedroom unit is a welcomed change for VanAndel, who is a ski instructor and hockey referee. Before moving into his house on Locals Lane, VanAndel and his two sons, ages 9 and 11, had been living in a one-bedroom apartment in town.

One of the first to move into Gibson Heights, VanAndel has painted the walls, decorated the house with Southwest American art and wooden shoes from his native Holland, and hung a sign on his porch marking the "Flying Dutchman" run, an original from the Keystone Ski Area.

"It is a dream come true," VanAndel said of moving into his house.

The development of eight three-bedroom single-family homes, 10 three-bedroom duplexes and 20 two-bedroom townhomes should be complete as summer ends. It is the second and largest project the Summit County Housing Authority has done that allows residents to own their homes.

It was a needs assessment that convinced local governments that owner-occupied affordable housing was needed, said Eileen Friedman, the program director for the housing authority.

"We are so far behind on the affordable housing that can be purchased," Friedman said. "That is why we started these affordable housing units."

Summit County is ninth in the nation when comparing the gap between housing costs and salaries. The average salary is $30,379 and the medium value of a home is $317,500.

For a one-bedroom apartment, the average rent in Breckenridge ranges from $700 to $800 and rent for a two-bedroom apartment hovers at $1,500.

Affordable housing is a problem that has grown worse in the past decade, Friedman said. When she talks about the problems the town faces, she could easily be talking about Steamboat Springs or any other ski town in the West.

"There is very little affordable housing because we have so many second-home owners that built big houses, so workers can't afford to live here. A lot of people who work in Summit Count live in Park County, where it takes 30 to 40 minutes to get over the pass," she said.

Gibson Heights follows the Ophir Mountain Village development, which provided 28 townhome units in nearby Frisco. In that development, the housing authority placed top priority on families in hopes that a three-person family can occupy a two-bedroom home. After families, the housing authority gives priority to those who have worked in Summit County the longest.

"We want as many people as there are possible in that unit," Friedman said.

Diane Schlaefer and her husband own one of the duplex units at Ophir Mountain Village. Paying mortgage on a two-bedroom townhome made it easier in deciding to have children. About a year after they moved into the house, they had their daughter, Freia.

It is a common phenomenon in the development, Schlaefer said, counting six families that have had children in the past six months. Ophir Mountain Village is littered with plastic climbing gyms and small bikes, evidence Freia will have plenty of playmates as she grows.

"We were worried about getting priced out of the county," Schlaefer said. "My husband and I are both self-employed. We wanted a two-bedroom condo and it wasn't looking like it was going to happen.

"This was a great opportunity."

Encompassing four ski resorts and five city governments, the Summit County Housing Authority has a hodgepodge of rules and regulations. But most of the municipalities use a mixture of government funding and incentives for developers to push affordable housing projects.

The housing authority is funded from the budgets of the towns and the county and contributions from the ski areas.

The biggest boost the housing authority has gotten in its first two projects is that Breckenridge and Summit County donated the land.

Friedman said most of the towns have a similar policy as Aspen, which will allow for a greater density if developers build more affordable housing. Another incentive is for developers to get tax credits from the federal government if they agree to build affordable housing that is deed restricted.

In November, Summit County's housing authority is asking voters to approve a mill levy increase for affordable housing in hopes of moving away from the unpredictable handouts of local governments.

"We have always been on a shoestring budget," Friedman said. "We have gone out and begged for money each year. We would like to have more of a steady income."

To get the funds governments need for affordable housing, Friedman recommends having a needs assessment study done. Summit County has had two in the past 10 years.

"A needs assessment is essential so that you can prove to county commissioners and mayors that (affordable housing) is needed," Friedman said.

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