Amid the continuing labor shortage, business owners across the county are getting creative to help recruit talent, and housing assistance is one of the most sought-after incentives.
Summit County and its cities use various housing programs to attract and retain staff and help ensure employees live in the communities in which they work. According to Summit County Human Resources Manager Molly Boyd, staffing has always been a challenge and the tools that help new hires find housing can make a difference.
“Recruitment and retention is one of the most difficult issues we face here in the county – all Summit County employers, not just the government – and housing is getting harder and harder to come by. is nothing new, ”Boyd said. “Housing in Summit County has always been more expensive than in many other places… so we felt it was important to use every tool possible to recruit, attract and retain talent. This is one of the ways we can help people find housing in the community so that they can live here and work here.
The county has two housing assistance programs, one for all employees and one for senior management.
The first, called the down payment assistance program, began in 1998, according to a previous report by the Summit Daily. Summit County Director Scott Vargo noted that the program is generally not funded by taxes.
“Funds became available to the county as part of… a kind of refinancing, and dollars were saved as a result of that, so those funds were put into this down payment assistance program to get it started. “said Vargo.
Vargo said the cap was $ 10,000 when the program started. Today, the limit is $ 30,000. Boyd and Vargo both said the program is eligible for full-time employees who have been in the county for about nine months, and Vargo said a letter of recommendation must also be submitted by the employee’s manager for show that the employee is in good standing with the county.
Employees are eligible for 10% of the purchase price of a home or condo, up to $ 30,000. For example, if the purchase price is $ 250,000, that employee would be entitled to $ 25,000. If the purchase price was $ 400,000, the employee would be entitled to $ 30,000.
Vargo said that since the start of the program, the county has made about 104 loans totaling $ 1.65 million.
Over time, these loans are repaid with interest, which Vargo says is currently around 3%. These interest and repayments are then fed back into the program, which has helped the fund grow over the years. Sometimes Vargo said the fund has also been replenished through the General Operating Fund, which is generated by taxpayers, when demand for assistance is high.
“There have been times when the demand for these loans has depleted the balance, and so in these cases the general fund transfers into the down payment assistance loan fund to replenish it and bring it up to date. the provision of employees continuously, “says Vargo.
Summit County CFO Marty Ferris said there was about $ 430,300 past due on 17 loans in the program.
The second type of housing assistance offered by the county is general housing assistance and is only available to senior managers. Only four loans have been made in the history of the program, Vargo said. According to previous Summit Daily reports, these loans were made to former County Manager Gary Martinez for $ 400,000; current county attorney Jeff Huntley for $ 215,000; former County Director Thad Noll for $ 250,000; and Vargo for $ 250,000.
Vargo said Martinez and Noll’s loans have already been repaid and that the only outstanding senior management loans are his and Huntley’s, for a total of about $ 440,000.
According to a previous Summit Daily report, these loans were used to recruit or retain the four employees. In 2007, the loan was given to Huntley to prevent him from moving into private practice. In 2012, Vargo, who was then Deputy Director, was actively recruited in Aspen to become Director of Pitkin County.
Vargo said all of these loans are for one-time uses. So what if an employee leaves the county or sells the house? Vargo said former employees have a limited window to repay the loan.
“If you leave the county job, I think it will take you three years to pay it off if you still own the house,” Vargo said. “So let’s say you left the Summit County government and moved to work for Vail Resorts, but still lived on the property here in Summit County, you would have three years to make that repayment. If you sell the house, or refinance it, and you are not an employee of the county, then at that point in the sale, you have to pay it back if it is within three years.
Of the 17 outstanding down payment assistance loans, Ferris said five were for former employees who are no longer in the county. The total amount borrowed by these five employees is almost $ 89,000 and, with interest, there is still $ 117,200 overdue.
Vargo noted that since the boom in the real estate market, rising prices for single-family homes and condos have made it difficult for county employees to take advantage of the program.
“It’s and always has been a challenge for people to find housing in Summit County, and even more so now, so we’ve seen a decrease in activity around this program because – I think in some many cases – even a $ 30,000 aid loan doesn’t ‘bridge 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 meant to be used as a tool to attract and retain talent, some residents like Heeney’s Jack Taylor believe those dollars should be spent elsewhere.
“It’s not the county’s role to be a mortgage lender to anyone and that’s what it basically comes down to,” Taylor said. “It was mortgage loans on properties, so the county took (this money) that could easily have been used for other programs, other challenges the country is currently facing, and (the place) to lend it to senior executives. “
Taylor said the county promised Heeney residents that Summit County Road 30 – otherwise known as Heeney Road – was supposed to be paved in 2008, but it was not due to budget constraints. Taylor said he felt frustrated that this service had not been completed, especially when some funds provided housing assistance to senior county management.
“We have a service delivery promise at the north end of the county that has been basically set aside and the dollars have been spent on home loans,” Taylor said, speaking of his frustration with the way the county is allocating. funds.