Crested Butte declares housing emergency

CRESTED BUTTE, Colorado – In almost every window of every store along Elk Avenue in Crested Butte, there is a Help Wanted sign. All over the city, businesses are struggling to find enough employees to keep their doors open. These panels tell the story of a city in difficulty.

Some had to change their hours of operation or shut down altogether several days a week, simply because they couldn’t find people to work.

“There are tons of jobs, not people,” said Crested Butte Mayor Jim Schmidt.

It’s not pandemic wages or unemployment benefits that businesses blame for the labor shortage, it’s the lack of affordable housing.

Like many mountain communities, the average house price has been skyrocketing for years. The average price of homes in the city is now close to $ 900,000.

“Accommodation here costs ridiculous prices. It’s still cheap compared to Aspen, but very ridiculous for us, ”Schmidt said.

Things got so bad that the area decided to stop marketing tourists coming to visit for the summer. For a city whose economy is based on tourism, this was an important decision.

“We sell tourism. We sell hospitality. It is a concern that we cannot feed everyone who comes here. They have to wait, ”Schmidt said.

It’s not just retail businesses and restaurants that are struggling. For months, the city’s parks and recreation department was unable to fill five positions because there was no affordable housing for future employees.

Some workers even camp in tents or vans in nearby American forest areas just to have a place to live.

“There are a lot of people who live out of the woods,” Schmidt said.

However, the Forest Service recently changed some of its rules to limit long-term camping in certain areas due to things like litter in the area.

While the issue of housing affordability is not new to mountain communities like Crested Butte, it is growing. The COVID pandemic and the new prevalence of remote working have created a new migration of people seeking to live far from major cities.

The new popularity of short-term rental options, like Airbnb and Vrbo, has also presented its own set of challenges for these cities.

The city council has taken a number of steps to try to help. It has already limited the number of short-term rental licenses issued each year to 30%. It has around 305 units restricted by deed to prevent the price of some units from appreciating too quickly.

Then, in June, city council took unprecedented action and declared a local disaster emergency on the issue of affordable housing.

“I don’t think we wanted to send a message. I think we wanted to get things done. We wanted to get things done quickly, ”Schmidt said.

The declaration allows the city to bypass certain building and municipal codes. In some cases, it makes it a bit easier to build a new home or master bedroom suite. In others, it eliminates the need for units to have two parking spaces per residence.

The statement also relaxed some of the restrictions on city camping during the summer.

“We said that people, if they have a friend who has an RV, they can put the RV in the yard for the summer if they work here. Not if they’re just visiting. We really want to take care of the people who work here, ”Schmidt said.

The city was also able to use the declaration to purchase a hotel to help house some employees.

The old Ruby Inn Bed and Breakfast was a staple in Crested Butte. It has six bedrooms, two common areas, and a shared kitchen that will serve as a dorm-style living for some city employees.

Schmidt also hopes the statement will help free up state and federal resources to help.

Meanwhile, city council decided to move forward with a one-year moratorium on new short-term rental permits in town.

He is also considering asking voters to increase the sales and use tax as well as the vacation rental tax to pay for affordable housing programs and to impose a tax on homes that are not the primary residence. owners for at least six months of the year.

As the city council continues to look for ways to help, local businesses are stepping in as well.

At Secret Stash Pizza on Elk Avenue, the days are very busy. With other restaurants adjusting their hours or closing their doors a few days a week, owner Kyleena Falzone said her business has grown 38% this year.

The additional activity is a challenge, however, as Secret Stash has lost 20 employees. Some of its workers live in vans and camp. She sometimes lets them use her house to do laundry.

Falzone has started to take charge of the housing problems of its employees.

“We built three two-bedroom triplexes and it was an investment of almost $ 900,000. It’s limited by deeds, so it’s not a for-profit business. It’s like we care about the employees, and we walk the walk and we talk the talk, ”she said.

Falzone’s investors advised her against the purchase, but she said she felt compelled to get involved because her restaurant cannot survive without its employees.

“We have to take care of the dishwashers and the bartenders, the bus waiters and the retail clerks,” Falzone said.

She even tried to buy the 14-room hostel in town to create a dorm-style life for the employees.

The only way she sees the city being able to meet all affordable housing needs is through high density development, although she knows there has been a setback against the idea for years.

“There’s this conflict, I’ll just say it, the rich versus the poor. It’s everywhere and we have to take care of the people who take care of the people who live here, ”Falzone said.

She said she didn’t necessarily agree to place limits on short-term rentals. Falzone owns two Airbnbs in town and said it leases them in the winter and leases them to employees out of season.

She said the short-term lease term allows her to charge these employees less per month when they stay there.

Ultimately, she said she didn’t believe there was a short-term solution to long-term affordable housing issues.

In all mountain communities, affordable housing is becoming more of a crisis year after year. The problem is now turning into a serious shortage of jobs.

For now, restaurants and businesses are asking visitors to be patient with their visit and understand that they might not be able to get the same level of service as in previous years.

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