Study: Second homes drive resort economies

Trend puts stress on affordable housing

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Starter castles, "McMansions," trophy homes -- regardless of what you call them, the growing presence of second homes in Colorado's resort towns is more visible with every dig of a bulldozer.

But what's not as apparent are the effects these homes have on local economies, particularly in terms of job creation and the subsequent pressures put on community resources and year-round residents.

Coming to terms with and dealing with the benefits and strains vacation homes bring to resort communities was the focus of a Vail symposium Thursday.

The event, based on a study conducted by the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, evaluated the economic and social effects of second homes in Eagle, Grand, Pitkin and Summit counties in 2002.

Using census data, surveys of homeowners and other information, the group found second-home construction and owners' spending made up 34 percent of outside dollars pumped into the four-county region.

That translates into 31,621 jobs -- 11 percent more jobs than were created from winter tourism.

But economists and other speakers at the symposium emphasized their concern with the secondary effects of the primary jobs created through the construction and maintenance of second homes, as well as the personal services catering to homeowners.

The people occupying those new jobs also demand services and people to provide those services. Together, they all have specific needs for community resources, particularly affordable housing -- a tough order to fill when second-home values continue to drive up prices of land and homes in resort areas.

"There needs to be a deliberate balance struck within our communities," said Rachel Richards, an Aspen City Council member and former Aspen mayor.

Richards stressed the importance of affordable housing in attracting and retaining a local work force.

In Aspen, which has grappled with the affordable housing issue for several decades, city government has bought up trailer parks and neighborhoods threatened by development, giving residents the chance to purchase their trailer or lot at a more reasonable price than if they were purchasing it from the original owner.

Relying on "down valley" communities for a work force is somewhat futile, because those towns eventually develop their own economies, diverting workers' spending away from the resorts where they work.

It also is inevitable that the second-home trend, and resulting rise in property values, will spread to the bedroom communities, Richardson said, noting that homes 40 miles away from Aspen average $350,000.

About 130 people from government agencies, economic development groups and businesses attended the symposium.

Among them were several representatives from the city of Steamboat Springs and Colorado Mountain College.

Although Steamboat and Routt County are not members of NWCCOG, Steamboat City Council member Ken Brenner said the information gathered from the study was relevant to the Steamboat area.

"They are working on information we don't have yet that we need," he said.

On the affordable housing issue, CMC social sciences professor Diane Mitsch Bush emphasized Steamboat is close behind other resort communities.

"We're the only mountain town without an (affordable housing) policy," she said.

Encouraging news came from economist Stephan Weiler, who discussed the abundance of high-value entrepreneurship in the four-county area.

"It's something that's going to typify this high amenity area," said Weiler, who helped with the study and is assistant vice president with the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City-Center for Study of Rural America.

Scott Ford, director of the Small Business Development Center at CMC agreed with Weiler, noting that entrepreneurial ventures enable many residents to make a living and stay in Steamboat.

The 25 to 40 age group is particularly vital to community leadership, he said.

"That's really the population where the battle is engaged," Ford said.

In his discussion, Weiler also emphasized the lack of information and data about smaller communities makes it difficult to access growing tends -- making the NWCCOG's study all the more important.

"It's unusual to have this quality of data ... and a community willing to use it," he said.

In speaking about the public policy implications of second homes, Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland noted that seemingly extreme policies often have more support than lawmakers expect.

He noted poll figures showing that Pitkin County residents overwhelmingly support preserving historic properties, limiting house sizes and enacting impact fees.

"If you think it's the right thing to create affordable housing ... do it -- the people will support you," he said.

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com

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