FRISCO, Colorado – Take I-70 into the mountains from Denver. Before reaching one of Colorado’s many well-known ski resorts, you’ll pass through the small town of Frisco. Just over 3,100 people currently reside in the city.
Like many other mountain communities, however, the city is facing a housing crisis. The problem is so serious that Frisco City Council has even considered declaring a housing emergency.
âThe housing emergency is always something we find ourselves in, we just haven’t officially declared it because it’s kind of known at this point. It’s not news, we didn’t need to stress something that was already there, âsaid Frisco Mayor Hunter Mortensen.
The COVID pandemic has only exacerbated the problem as people have been able to start working remotely and some have chosen to relocate far from cities and into mountain communities.
âThat was the big change, it’s the size of the people who can work from anywhere and now work from here,â Mortensen said. “That’s when we really started to see real estate sales skyrocket and prices skyrocket and more and more people are now living here full time.”
The median price of homes in the area is now around $ 1 million. Mortensen says some people even buy these expensive houses just to tear them down and build an even bigger one.
The rise of short-term rentals like VRBO and Airbnb is not helping matters. Like other mountain communities, more homes and condos are being offered on these platforms for visitors than ever before.
Frisco averages around 10 license applications for new short-term rentals per week. The trend is becoming so popular that the city is creating a new full-time position for a short-term hire manager.
It’s not just restaurant owners or ski resort employees who have trouble finding accommodation; doctors, lawyers, healthcare workers and other employees in high-paying jobs also struggle to find a place to live.
âWe are at a time when we are beyond our own means to resolve a critical and critical issue for our community,â Mortensen said.
Mortensen is a native of Frisco and a professional ski tracker. He’s been so focused on the housing shortage for years and says the problem is so serious that city council has put him on every one of its agendas until he feels he has got a handle on the problem.
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As city council takes a closer look at the housing crisis, a Frisco resident has started a petition to limit short-term rentals in the city.
James Hayes Walsh is not someone who normally gets involved in city politics. He has a mule, rides a bike to get around in the summer, and almost always has a ready-to-take Frisbee for his dog, which he takes with him everywhere.
Walsh decided to start a petition when he noticed that the makeup of his neighborhood was changing.
âShort-term rentals, especially single-family homes, diminish the quality of life and culture in the neighborhood,â said Walsh. “We are going to protect our community and protect a resource, which is the people who live here, by giving them priority when it comes to single-family homes.”
The petition would ban single-family and detached homes from being used as short-term rentals, unless it is the owner’s primary residence.
The ban would not apply to condos or townhouses, and he argues that it gives enough leeway to families who want to rent out their homes.
âIf someone lives in the house and subsidizes their mortgage by making short-term rentals, that’s great. If they have a guesthouse that they live in and they Airbnb home, all the better. If they divide it into multiple levels and you can live on one level and Airbnb on the other, great. If they live in the house for six months and one day and rent it out the rest of the year, so much the better, âWalsh said.
However, Walsh says he’s noticed more real estate groups with better purchasing power are taking houses and renting them out to tourists.
Instead, he wants families who live and work in the communities to have the option of buying or renting the homes by switching them to long-term rentals.
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A short-term rental ban is not a completely new idea. Residents of Telluride, Steamboat Springs, Buena Vista and other mountain communities are considering placing more limits on these types of rentals while Crested Butte has issued a one-year suspension of all vacation rental licenses.
Cities like Denver have also placed restrictions on short-term rentals and require homes to be the owner’s primary residence.
However, some rental companies argue that this is a bad solution and could end up hurting the city’s overall economy.
âShort-term rentals are not the cause of housing problems. It’s really a by-product of a deeper economic problem of supply and demand, âsaid Mary Waldman, owner of Summit Mountain Rentals. âBanning short-term rentals is not going to create more long-term housing. “
Summit Mountain Rentals is a property management company that oversees over 250 properties in Breckenridge and Frisco.
She doesn’t like the idea of ââthe government telling people what they can and cannot do with their own properties.
On the one hand, Waldman says almost all of his clients don’t get any profit from short-term rentals and only use it to help cover some of the mortgage and HOA costs.
Many also come to stay in the house a few weeks a year and say converting to a long-term rental would remove that option.
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She also doesn’t believe that requiring homes to be converted into long-term units will make them more affordable since homeowners will have to charge more to earn the same amount.
âIf they were to make a long-term commitment, $ 4,000, $ 5,000 or $ 6,000 a month for a two or three bedroom house, it’s just not affordable. So the math just doesn’t work, âsaid Waldman.
Beyond that, Waldman argues that the city is run by tourism money and therefore short-term rentals contribute to the region’s overall economy.
If rentals are phased out, she believes tourists won’t visit as frequently and the city won’t need more employee housing.
âWe’re going to become a sleepy town with day trippers from Denver. I believe I know these businesses will suffer and affordable housing for workers will become a non-issue because there will be a lot of housing available with little demand, âshe said.
Walsh disagrees and says he doesn’t accept the argument that putting more railings around these locations will hurt the city.
Frisco is in the process of hiring a full-time short-term rental manager to take a closer look at the issue and help city council understand the impact of these units on the area.
Mortensen hopes to gain a better understanding in the coming months of how many houses are not used as primary residences and how often they are used by owners.
He thinks there might be more fees on those rentals or more license limits.
âI think there has to be something to work on with that and the scope is definitely the big question and what that looks like,â he said.
He did not take a position on the petition, but said it certainly made people across Frisco pay more attention to the housing crisis, which could help bring new ideas or solutions to the table. .
Perhaps ironically, Walsh himself works for a short-term rental company as a maintenance worker. He knows his petition could end up affecting his work, but says it’s worth it to try and help the community.
âI see people leaving because they cannot afford to live here. I see the city evolving towards this identity of resort town â, he declared. âI am fighting to preserve these relationships.
He does not believe that this petition is perfect, nor the silver bullet for the housing problems in the community.
Still, he continues to collect signatures, hoping to spark a conversation about how Frisco should solve his housing issues.