From 2000 to 2010, Breckenridge’s year-round population jumped an astounding 89 percent, according to the U.S. Census—from 2,408 residents to 4,540. Not coincidentally, the influx corresponded with an enhanced focus on workforce housing available in town and throughout the Upper Blue River Valley.
“We were like, We’re not keeping up, we’re losing folks,” says Laurie Best, the town’s long-range planner. “So in 2000 the town got very serious and adopted an affordable-housing strategy.”
But while developments like the Wellington neighborhood (a public-private partnership with developer David O’Neil that has built 165 deed-restricted homes on 85 acres on the east side of town that was originally zoned for four McMansions) targeted middle-class homebuyers, middle-class renters were mostly left to fend for themselves.
That may change next spring when the town breaks ground on Pinewood 2—the first municipality-built, municipality-owned rental units in Breckenridge. After five years working to buy what Best calls “a funky little Forest Service parcel” on Airport Road, the town finally closed on the 16-acre property in 2012. It got the land for just $950,000 thanks to a three-way exchange that gave the Forest Service a private parcel it desired in Montana. On three acres of its new lot, the Town of Breckenridge will spend approximately $9 million ($6 million if it receives a tax credit from the state) to build a three-story complex with nine studios and 36 one-bedroom apartments just up the road from Pinewood Village, 74 privately developed and managed rental units on town-owned land. Rental rates haven’t been finalized, but the goal is to make them affordable for residents who earn $38,000 or less per year.
“This is not intended to solve the problem for families,” Best says. “It’s intended for singles and couples who don’t want a bunch of roommates—they just want a place of their own.”
Yet thanks to town-backed projects like the Wellington neighborhood (which still plans to add another 60 homes), from 2000 to 2010 the number of families residing in town grew by 216—almost unheard-of in resort communities, where real-estate prices are traditionally inflated by a proliferation of expensive second homes.
“The reason the town does housing is a philosophical thing,” Best says. “It’s to support a vibrant economy and make sure we have labor, but it’s also to make sure the town stays a real town. Because if you don’t have locals living here, you lose a lot of diversity and end up with an aging, wealthier population.”
According to a consultant’s report in May of this year, Breckenridge’s affordable housing boosts local spending by up to $15 million per year (much of which happens during the shoulder seasons) and decreases commuting by 100,000 vehicle miles each week. But the problem is far from fully solved. Best says the town still needs between 375 and 650 affordable units to meet demand, in addition to the 839 currently available.
Many of those could come on Block 11, a much larger parcel the town aims to develop in the coming years farther north on Airport Road. It could be large enough to handle over 300 units, Best says, who expects ground-breaking to happen soon, and the buildout to be complete within15 years.
Until then, interested parties can contact the Summit Combined Housing Authority (summithousing.us) to get on the wait list for Pinewood 2, which could be ready for occupancy by the fall of 2016. Don’t put it off, Best advises: the units are likely to disappear faster than untracked snow on a powder day.