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The construction of a house is pictured April 27 in Wildernest. Summit County is one of several counties in the state that offers home loan assistance programs to its employees.
Photo by Grace Coomaraswamy/GLC Productions LLC

Amid the ongoing labor shortage, business owners across the county are getting creative to help recruit talent, and among the most sought-after incentives is housing assistance.

Summit County and its towns use various housing programs to attract and retain staff and help ensure that employees live in the communities in which they work. Staffing has always been difficult, and tools that help new hires find housing can make a difference, according to Summit County Human Resources Manager Molly Boyd.

“Recruitment and retention is one of the toughest issues we face here in the county – all employers in Summit County, not just the government – and housing is getting harder and harder to get, not let it be a new thing,” Boyd said. “Housing in Summit County has always been more expensive than many other places…so we felt it was important to use the tools we had to recruit, attract and retain talent. It’s one of the ways we can help people find housing in the community so 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 previous reports by Summit Daily. Summit County Executive Scott Vargo noted that the program is generally not funded by taxes.

“Some of the funds were made available to the county through … sort of a refinance, and dollars were saved through that, and so those funds were put into this down payment assistance program for the to start up. “, Vargo said.

Vargo said the cap was $10,000 at the start of the program. Today, the cap is $30,000. Boyd and Vargo said the program is eligible for full-time employees who have worked in the county for about nine months, and Vargo said a letter of recommendation must also be submitted by the employee’s manager to show that the employee is in good standing with the county.

Employees are entitled to 10% of the purchase price of a house or condo, up to $30,000. For example, if the purchase price is $250,000, that employee would qualify for $25,000. If the purchase price was $400,000, the employee would be entitled to $30,000.

Vargo said that since the program began, the county has issued about 104 loans totaling $1.65 million.

Over time, these loans are repaid with interest, which Vargo says is currently around 3%. These interests and repayments are then funneled back into the program, which has helped the fund grow over the years. At times, 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 absolutely been times when the demand for these loans has depleted the balance, and so in those cases the general fund makes a transfer into the down payment assistance loan fund to replenish it and bring it to available to employees at all times,” says Vargo.

Summit County Chief Financial Officer Marty Ferris said there was about $430,300 outstanding on 17 loans under the program.

The second type of housing assistance offered by the county is general housing assistance and is only available to senior staff. Only four loans have been made in the program’s history, Vargo said. According to previous reports by Summit Daily, those loans were given to former county executive Gary Martinez for $400,000; current county attorney Jeff Huntley for $215,000; former county manager Thad Noll for $250,000; and Vargo for $250,000.

Vargo said Martinez and Noll’s loans had already been repaid and the only outstanding executive loans were his and Huntley’s, totaling about $440,000.

According to previous reports by Summit Daily, these loans were used to recruit or retain the four employees. In 2007, the loan was granted to Huntley to prevent him from potentially going into private practice. In 2012, Vargo, who was assistant manager at the time, was being actively recruited from Aspen to become the Pitkin County manager.

Vargo said all of these loans are for one-time use. What happens if an employee leaves the county or sells the house? Vargo said former employees had a limited window as to when they had to repay the loan.

“If you quit the county job, I believe it’s three years to pay it back if you still own the house,” Vargo said. “So say you left Summit County government and moved to work for Vail Resorts, but you were still living on the property here in Summit County, you would have three years to make that refund. If you sell the house, or if you refinance it, and you are not an employee of the county, then at the time of the sale, you must pay it off if it is before the three years.

Of the 17 down payment assistance loans in progress, Ferris said five are 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 outstanding.

Vargo noted that since the housing market boom, rising prices for single-family residential homes and condos have made it difficult for county employees to take advantage of the program.

“It is and always has been a challenge for people to find housing in Summit County, and even more so now, so we have seen less activity around this program because – I think in many many cases – even a $30,000 relief loan is not enough. ‘t close 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 all residents.

Although the program is intended to be used as a talent attraction and retention tool, 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 anybody and that’s what it basically comes down to,” Taylor said. “These were mortgages on properties, and so what the county did was take (that money) that could have easily gone to other programs, to other challenges that the country is facing. currently facing, and (instead) loan it out to senior executives. ”

Taylor said the county promised the residents of Heeney that Summit County Road 30 – otherwise known as Heeney Road – was to be paved in 2008, but this did not happen due to budget constraints. Taylor said he feels frustrated that this service has not been completed, especially when some funds provide housing assistance to county senior management.

“We have a service delivery promise to the north end of the county that has basically been shelved and the dollars have gone into home loans,” Taylor said, speaking of his frustration with how the county allocate funds.