With continued labor shortages, business owners across the county are being creative in helping to recruit talent, and one of the most requested incentives is help with housing.
Summit County and its cities use different housing programs to attract and retain staff and to ensure that employees live in the communities in which they work. Staffing has always been a challenge, according to Summit County Human Resources Director Molly Boyd, and tools that help new hires find housing can make the difference.
“Recruiting and retention is one of the biggest challenges we face here in the area — all employers in Summit County, not just the government — and housing is getting harder and harder to get, not that it’s something new, ”Boyd said. “Housing in Summit County has always been more expensive than many other locations … so we felt it was important to use all the tools available to recruit, attract and retain talent. This is one of the ways to help people find housing in the community so that they can live and work here. “
There are two housing assistance programs in the district, one for all employees and one for senior management.
According to a previous Summit Daily report, the first, called the Down Payment Assistance Program, began in 1998. Summit County Governor Scott Vargo noted that the program is usually not tax-funded.
“There were some funds that were made available to the county as part of… a kind of refinancing, and it saved a few dollars as a result, and so that money was poured into this assistance program at a down payment to get it started. said Vargo.
Vargo said that when the program was launched, the limit was $ 10,000. Today the limit is $ 30,000. Both Boyd and Vargo said the program is suitable for full-time employees who have been in the county for about nine months, and Vargo said a letter of recommendation should also be sent by the employee’s director to show that the employee has a good reputation in the area. district.
Employees are eligible to receive 10% of the purchase price of a home or condominium, up to a maximum of $ 30,000. For example, if the purchase price is $ 250,000, that employee would be eligible for $ 25,000. If the purchase price was $ 400,000, the employee would be eligible to receive $ 30,000.
Vargo said the county has provided about 104 loans totaling $ 1.65 million since the program began.
Over time, these loans are paid off at an interest rate, which Vargo said is currently around 3%. That interest and payments are then fed back into the program that has helped fuel the fund’s growth over the years. Sometimes, Vargo said, the fund was also supplemented by a general operating fund that taxpayers set up when demand for aid is high.
“There were absolutely times when the demand for these loans depleted the balance, and so in these cases the general fund transferred funds to the down payment aid loan fund to replenish it and make it available to employees on a permanent basis,” Vargo said.
Summit County CFO Marty Ferris said the program has about $ 430,300 in outstanding debt on 17 loans.
The second type of housing assistance offered by the district is for general housing assistance and is available only to senior management. According to Vargo, only four loans have been issued in the entire history of the program. According to a previous Summit Daily report, these loans were made to former county governor Gary Martinez in the amount of $ 400,000; current District Attorney Jeff Huntley – $ 215,000; former County Governor Tad Knoll for $ 250,000; and Vargo for $ 250,000.
Vargo said the loans to Martinez and Knoll had already been paid off, and the only outstanding loans to senior management were his and Huntley’s, totaling about $ 440,000.
According to a previous Summit Daily report, these loans were intended to hire or retain all four employees. In 2007, a loan was given to Huntley to prevent him from pursuing private practice. In 2012, Vargo, who was an assistant manager at the time, was actively recruited by Aspen to become Pitkins County manager.
Vargo said all of these loans are for one-time use. So what happens if an employee leaves the county or sells a house? Vargo said former employees have limited time to pay off the loan.
“If you leave your job in the county, I believe you will have to pay three years if you still own the house,” Vargo said. “So let’s say you left the Summit County government and moved to work at Vail Resorts, but you still lived on the property here in Summit County and you had three years to pay this benefit. If you are selling or refinancing a home and you are not a county employee, you must return it at the time of the sale if it happens before three years. ”
Of the 17 outstanding down payment loans, Ferris said, five are for former employees who no longer work in the county. The total amount these five employees have borrowed is almost $ 89,000, with an outstanding $ 117,200 after interest.
Vargo noted that after the real estate boom, rising prices for private residences and condominiums made it difficult for district employees to take advantage of the program.
“Finding housing in Summit County was and always has been a problem for people, and even more so now, so we are seeing a decrease in activity around this program, because – I think in many cases – even a loan of $ 30,000 does not help. “Not bridging the gap that people see with the current housing crisis,” Vargo said.
Other counties in the state have similar housing assistance programs, including Eagle and Pitkin. Grand County also offers a down payment assistance program available to any resident.
While the program is intended to be used as a tool to attract and retain talent, some residents, such as Jack Taylor of Heaney, feel that these dollars should be spent elsewhere.
“It’s not the county’s role to be the mortgage lender for anyone, and it basically comes down to that,” Taylor said. “These were real estate mortgages, and so the county took (this money) that could easily have been funneled into other programs, other challenges the country is currently facing, and (instead) loaned them to senior staff. “
Taylor said Heeney residents were promised by the county that Summit County Road 30, also known as Heeney Road, was to be paved in 2008, but this did not happen due to budget constraints. Taylor said he was disappointed that the service was not completed, especially when some foundations provide housing assistance to the county’s senior leadership.
“We have a promise to provide services in the northern part of the county that has been largely delayed and the dollars have been poured into real estate loans,” Taylor said of his frustration with the county’s allocation of funding.