Crested Butte’s Real Estate Boom and Affordable Housing

Then …

Last month the “20 Years Ago” feature in the Crested Butte News reminded us of both the need for and cost of affordable housing in our community. The question under debate was how much affordable housing should be required for every square foot of market rate development in Mt. Crested Butte.

… and now

According the Gunnison Times, earlier this year County leaders met recently to discuss housing and other issues. Nearly 200 deed restricted housing units were identified for completion in within the next two years. While these additional units will be important for many of the families and workers in our community, the increases fall short of the what’s needed and the number of rooms available to rent is minimal. 

Last December, Crested Butte Town Councilor had to step down from the Council after moving to Gunnison. Lack of long-term affordable housing in Crested Butte was one of the two reasons she gave for her move. More recently, half of the several For Rent classified ads in the April 2nd edition of the Crested Butte News are seeking rentals and not available rental housing.

Progress Report

The 2016 Housing Needs Assessment showed a need for 960 new units by 2020 and according to the 2019 Gunnison Valley Housing Plan, only 424 units were built or planned by 2019. Most of the 424 units require greater than 80% AMI to afford. 

A lot has changed since the 2016 Housing Needs Assessment was conducted. Vail Resorts purchased Crested Butte Mountain Resort. Western Colorado University’s Rady School of Computer Science and Engineering opened its doors. The coronavirus pandemic spurred the “Zoom-boom” or wave of workers wanting and able to work remotely from mountain and other resort communities such as ours. According to Rob Zilloux, finance director for the Town of Crested Butte, “2020 has been a monster year for real estate sales in Crested Butte.” Total transaction volume in Town was up 72 percent and the number of homes that sold for more than $1 million increased 56 percent.

Thus, the number of units actually needed as of 2021 is likely many more than envisioned back in 2016. 

Gunnison County Tourism Remains Strong and Sets Records

Not only are people moving to Gunnison County to live and work from home, but throughout the pandemic visitor traffic increased as tourist sought open-spaces and outdoor activities. John Norton, the executive director of Gunnison County’s Tourism and Prosperity Partnership, recounted early expectations that the pandemic would severely reduce the number of tourist visits in 2020, when in fact the County’s lodging tax revenue increased 11 percent over 2019. According to Zilloux, short term rental tax revenues in Crested Butte increased 24 percent in 2020, even though tourism was restricted last spring and early summer.

Looking ahead

The result of all this rapid growth is greater demand for existing housing units, less inventory, and still higher prices. Recent classified sections of the local papers show many, many more jobs open than units available for rent.  The strong real estate and tourism performance in 2020 may help why the Housing Authority has not received any applications for emergency mortgage assistance for those living in deed restricted housing. 

An article in the Crested Butte News at the start of the year stated affordable housing was a top priority of the Crested Butte town council. The council’s ideas for solving the problem included trying again to get a housing tax passed, conducting water well tests on the Brush Creek parcel, “coordinating projects”, “not over-saturating the market with similar projects”, and “recognizing a sense of urgency.” Arguably, the tax increase and well testing are the two most specific ideas for increasing the supply of housing. However, in 2018, the county electorate said no to the 6A affordable housing tax initiative. While this doesn’t mean a tax wouldn’t pass in the town of Crested Butte, its not a good sign. 

As for the water well test at Brush Creek, less than a month into the new year, town manager Dara MacDonald reported to the town council that well testing at Brush Creek, once hailed as absolutely necessary, was no longer a priority. 

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