Updates From The Northwest Colorado Council of Governments

From the Director’s Deskin collaboration with Margaret Bowes, Executive Director of CAST

A Mountain Migration tipping point?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic escalated in March of 2020, national media reported an outflow of residents flocking from cities to high quality-of-life places such as the mountain resort communities covered in this report. Residents of these communities observed that their communities were busier— and consistently so, breaking the typical patterns of high and low visitation. 

But was the in-migration real? And what did we know about the people coming to these places who appeared more like residents than visitors? Was it only a COVID-driven wave that would recede? How would it impact known community challenges such as workforce retention, affordable housing, rental stock, and that mountain community holy grail that is quality-of-life? 

A desire for a better understanding of the answers to these and many other questions being asked led to this Mountain Migration report. We listened to our membership through 2020, there was a sense among those reflecting already that the COVID Mountain Migration experiment might prove instructive, providing a glimpse ahead for those who drive policy. 

That idea was the origin of this report. To get it done, the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments (NWCCOG) sought a partnership with the Colorado Association of Ski Towns (CAST) to scope and fund this report. That partnership led to a grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), and funding from a recovery grant from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to match dues from NWCCOG and CAST membership. NWCCOG is deeply appreciative of these partners, the many contributors listed in the Acknowledgements page and the amazing communities that we are honored to serve.
The findings of this report should help local leaders better understand current trends and motivate them to address evolving community needs.

While the data was gathered from six Colorado mountain resort counties, the results should provide widespread insights for other high amenity places throughout the Mountain West.

In Colorado, most solutions are local, but many of the impacts outlined in this report can only be addressed through regional and state-level cooperation and in some cases structural changes to policy, practice, and law. Many public and private sector professionals have spent their careers on these issues, many of the communities studied have been “doing housing” for decades, and many are innovating in the housing sector right now, though, few are putting all options on the table. 

There is always that sticky matter of political courage and public resistance to change.  We hope this report be a wake-up call for local leaders, a renewed call to action for those already involved in tackling community challenges, and a reference point for those seeking to understand the trends so they can have a positive impact on the places they live.

The consequences are real. Will some communities reach a tipping point of unfillable jobs that are necessary to sustain their reputations and quality of life? Will some communities be fully commoditized and lose their soul? The report notes that no place yet has “built their way out” of the issue. Is that possible? Does that mean that a community “couldn’t?” There are many approaches to the issue. We recommend looking at each of them again. NWCCOG and CAST will be hosting a panel discussion for members on the report on June 30th at 3 pm hosted by Jason Blevins from The Colorado Sun.  Watch your inbox for that invitation to the members of both organizations.
 
Jon Stavney Executive Director NWCCOG
Margaret Bowes Executive Director CAST 
(This FDD is excerpted from the Introduction to the report written by Jon and Margaret.)

Housing Crisis – Emergency?

The recent increased pressure on the housing market is causing some communities to consider declaring it an Emergency. Frisco did, as has Crested Butte. Whether housing shortage qualifies for a federal or state disaster declaration like a natural disaster is unlikely, but these places are saying, “This Time is Different.” Looking at a problem as a crisis rather than just an endemic dead-horse issue changes the discussion. Both are certainly getting attention through the action even if it is largely symbolic.

Earlier this month the Crested Butte Community Development Director indicated that the lack of housing is contributing to the downward spiral of fewer workers, causing fewer jobs filled, causing businesses to struggle to stay open – which will eventually cause lower sales taxes, fewer services – the list goes on. Yes, it is an emergency. The town council granted emergency powers to the town manager which included the ability to bypass certain regulations (their own regulations). The Colorado Sun article details this and other actions Crested Butte is taking to fight the challenge head-on.
Closer to home, Hunter Mortenson Mayor of Frisco, who is a panelist on the Mountain Migration panel, has generated much discussion as well. Mortenson, who grew up in Frisco, has stopped short of declaring an Emergency for the time being but told a reporter from 9News he wants to “put housing at the forefront of every discussion we have as a town.” The article goes on to outline just a few of the innovative ways businesses in Frisco continue to chip away at the problem.

From a CBS4 interview, Mortenson voiced concern not just for Frisco, but for Summit County as a whole, when he said, “If we suffer up here in any of our mountain towns, our recreation economy is going to suffer and that’s going to go back down to Denver and the Capital and their budgeting in the future, so I’m really trying to draw those connections and show that it’s not just an emergency for us.” The approach may be changing the discussion.

Many agree emergency declarations are normally reserved for acts of God, such as disease or flood, while an emergency declaration would be mostly symbolic, but it would have the same goal declarations for natural disasters do — raising awareness – only without the Federal funds.

In an email exchange with NWCCOG asking if Housing shortage qualifies as a Declared Emergency, Birch Barron, Director of Emergency Management for Eagle County said that he certainly understands that housing is an “emergency” in many senses of the word. He cautions that a symbolic gesture aimed at mobilizing the community and government needs to be carefully considered. His experience has shown that the declaration should be done with much intention and thought – including a definition of the scope, short- and long-term goals, when it ends, how do you define the success, etc. He suggests expectations need to be clear from the start, so staff doesn’t waste time spinning their wheels on poorly defined goals.

Colorado cities can now require developers to build affordable housing

On May 28, 2021, Governor Jared Polis signed HB 1117 which enables local governments to require developers to include below-market-rate units in new or redeveloped rental projects, negating a 20-year-old precedent that has blocked Colorado municipalities from requiring developers to build affordable units.

The Colorado Sun article quoted Polis as saying, “Communities are strongest when people who work in a community can live in the community, and that’s something that sadly we have been losing.” This bill gives local governments more control when working with developers on new projects.  While most municipalities are excited about the new options, some opponents believe the bill will have negative impacts – forcing developers to shift cost increases to their tenants resulting in increased rents.

Supporters argue changes in zoning and regulatory relief will offset any negative impacts. When the legislature gets involved in local issues, the results are often mixed. As hot a topic as housing is, expect more activity next year from the legislature.