The town of Fairplay in rural Park County is breaking ground on a workforce housing project intended to help local police officers, firefighters and teachers find affordable homes to purchase.
April-Dawn Knudsen, executive director of Summit Habitat for Humanity, said helping these sorts of people find housing has not traditionally been a focus for her nonprofit, as some think people in these jobs can find housing on their own.
“When Habitat for Humanity started their mission, I don't think they ever imagined a world where they would be housing teachers,” Knudsen said.
Despite being historically focused on the ski communities of Summit County, Knudsen’s organization has been turning some of their focus next door to Park County, which has become home to an increasing number of commuters looking for cheaper housing.
However, the homes planned for the new Fairplay project are available solely to applicants working at least 32 hours a week within Park County, Knudsen said, with priority given to local educators, law enforcement, first responders and municipal workers.
It’s another sign of the increasingly dire housing circumstances in the high country. The total amount of money spent yearly on real estate in Colorado’s most popular mountain counties — including Summit — has doubled in less than a decade.
In an effort to keep more rental options open for their local workforce, a number of mountain towns and counties have temporarily stopped issuing short term rental licenses. A Breckenridge-based shuttle company even purchased a historic hotel in downtown Fairplay to convert into employee housing.
The Summit Habitat project in Fairplay will squeeze eight single-family modular homes into a half-acre donated lot next to downtown. Knudsen said the price for the homes will be capped at $250,000 and available to buy by applicants making 80-percent of Park County’s median income or less. She said local teachers, for example, often only make 50 percent of the median income.
Meanwhile, Park County’s lowest-income residents often live in trailers, sheds and other substandard housing options on small plots of cheap private land far from utilities or services.
“While we think of these folks as middle class, they're really struggling and don't have access to put down roots in these communities,” she said.
The first two homes Summit Habitat is building in Park County should be ready for residents by the first quarter of 2023, Knudsen said, with occupants moved into all eight homes by the end of 2024.
“If we can elevate and strengthen the middle [class], we're able to strengthen the community at large,” she said. “Then, we're able to reach further down and support folks who are going without.”