This story rings true big time for Telluride renters and real estate market also- big problem, challenging solutions......

FRISCO —They are living in tents in Crested Butte. In Telluride, they could soon be squeezed into portable shelters. They are in motels not suited for ski vacationers in Steamboat Springs. And in Breckenridge, some locals are living in their cars. "I feel like a bum. I have to shower in different places every day. We are getting treated like we are second-class citizens or something. But we keep this place alive," said Ellie Reiley, a 27-year-old restaurant worker and longtime Breckenridge resident who is one of hundreds, if not thousands, of mountain community residents scrambling for affordable housing in what most in the high country are calling a rental crisis.

They have jobs. Work is abundant. That's part of the problem.

(Click to enlarge)

The worst-ever rental market in Colorado's mountain communities is fueled by a convergence of several factors, including a booming tourism economy drawing record numbers of visitors, prodding employers to grow and hire more workers.

Add to that a lack of new affordable housing construction in the last half-decade as towns grappled with the economic downturn. And then there's the surge in homeowners converting properties they once rented to locals into short-term or seasonal rentals for the growing wave of tourists.

The lucky few locals with homes are hosting hordes.

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"I hate having to think about where I'm going to sleep," said 28-year-old Andrea King, a Breckenridge bartender who has spent the past three months visiting dozens of apartments and homes — with cash in hand — in a fruitless search for a new home. The house she rented in Alma for almost four years just sold.

She's stood in line outside front doors to drop off rental applications with overwhelmed landlords. A listing on Craigslist pops up and it's gone in hours. One woman who listed a home told King she has hundreds of e-mails to sort through. She offered one landlord $500 as a signing bonus. He took more from another applicant.

King is living out of her overloaded Subaru, showering at a friend's house, where floor space is overrun with sleeping pads.

What's not wedged in her car is stacked in her boss' garage.

"I'm so scatterbrained. This has become a full-time job, finding a place to live. I didn't think it would affect me like this. But it's all I can think about," said King. "Please don't call me homeless. I hate that word."

She's waiting outside a property management office, ready to visit a three-bedroom home in Frisco with her hopeful roommates. They have cash in their pockets. King's mom calls. She doesn't answer.

"I don't want to tell her I don't have a place to live right now," she said.

(The Denver Post)

Tim Gagen said the rental housing deficit in Breckenridge and Summit County is the worst he's seen in 15 years. Like other town leaders across Colorado's high country, he's calling it a crisis. The longtime Breckenridge town manager said leaders are pushing their immediate focus from affordable ownership to rental, with a project set to open early next year with 45 units available for rent. Two more projects will add about 100 more units, but those won't be ready until 2017.

Gagen admits the town "was really surprised" by both the rapid decline in rental supply and the surging demand.

It's a lament heard across the high country. Few saw this coming.

The economic rebound in the mountains is setting records. Sales tax revenues are reaching all-time highs as more people visit to play. More people are moving to the mountains for work and employers are ramping up hiring. Construction jobs are returning as developers and investors return to the reviving mountain real estate markets.

But the housing stock is not keeping up. It's even tighter with locals who lost their homes in the Great Recession crowding the pool of renters.

And the supply of year-lease rental homes is getting pinched even more by the thousands of homes available only for seasonal and short-term rentals.

has lost out on everyone they have seen either because it was gone the next day or someone has threw in an extra $500 to $1000. The rise in rents and the surge of many properties becoming vacation rentals, local workers have had trouble finding places to live while working at the many ski resorts in the area. (Photo By Brent Lewis/The Denver Post)

When facing the option of filling a home with four or five young locals for the year or renting to the higher-paying vacationer, it's understandable that homeowners are leaning beyond long-term leases. Short-term guests can multiply annual revenue while the home gets professionally cleaned dozens of times a year.

"There is bigger demand on that open market for the vacationer dollars than the local worker dollars," Gagen said. "All these factors have become a tsunami for this season."

In most mountain communities, there hasn't been new multifamily construction by private developers for years. Developers who are returning to the market are focusing on high-dollar single-family homes and condos.

Most new long-term rental properties are built through local housing authorities or governments. And those projects take years to plan, approve, fund and build.

Last week, Summit County voters overwhelming approved the continuation of a sales tax that funds construction of workforce housing. But even if construction of new rental homes begins today, and developers start building affordable units as a requirement for their high-end projects, "that is not enough to overcome the burden we have right now," Gagen said.

That sense of urgency is widespread in the high country. It's spurring out-of-the-box thinking.

In Steamboat, real estate broker Jon Wade is renting the 33-room Alpiner Lodge he and a partner own to a property management company that needs lodging for its housekeeping employees. Down the street, the Sheraton Steamboat Resort is putting up workers at the dormant, city-owned Iron Horse Inn.

Wade said the rental housing crisis began when locals began losing their homes in the recession, spiking demand for long-term rentals.

"Then, when the economy improved, there was less supply so it tightened up more quickly," Wade said.

Wade said "it was no small effort" to get the city to allow the local housekeepers to rent rooms at his Alpiner Lodge by the month. The city building department deemed the switch from nightly rentals a change of use. Wade spent a bunch of money to negotiate the change and open his hotel to local workers.

"They almost made it hard enough that it wasn't worth it," Wade said. "They just made it harder and more expensive to provide the affordable housing the city wanted. Do we want to make it more expensive to do things we need?"

The lack of rental housing and affordable homes in Steamboat has been impacted in a so-far immeasurable way by the surge in vacation rentals. (Few towns have tracked how many homes that were once rented by workers are now available for short-term rental.)

Since 2009, the number of short-term Steamboat rentals listed on VRBO and HomeAway has swelled 175 percent to 1,865, according to data provided to The Denver Post by the websites.

That growth has impacted the rental housing supply for the town of 12,000 full-time residents, said Jason Peasley, executive director of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority.

"But I believe the largest factor impacting our housing is that we have built very little supply over the past six years and have found ourselves way behind the demand curve," said Peasley, noting that using two old hotels to house workers is "a symptom of our supply gap."

Britni Johnson moved to Steamboat in 2007. Back then, choices were plentiful for lodging. With a couple of roommates, she split the $1,500 a month on a three-bedroom house in downtown. Rents were pretty steady until 2011, when that three-bedroom topped $2,000, she said. Now, that rare three-bedroom house is filled in hours by renters paying closer to $3,000.

Johnson has moved with her dog out of town, commuting to her jobs as a waiter and backcountry ski guide.

She sees the surge in vacation rentals as a problem. She said she uses VRBO and Airbnb when she travels, "but I'm seeing it from a different perspective as a resident of a mountain town.

"With the economy coming back, these short-term rentals have created a perfect storm for seasonal employees," she said. "We all want to work here, but we can't afford to."

Telluride has taken its search for solutions a step further, giving preliminary approval this month to a test run of five "tiny homes" that could evolve into a settlement of portable mini-homes. Breckenridge, too, is pondering the idea of temporary shelters.

Telluride is working on two housing projects, an eight-unit owner-occupied project in town and another rental project in town with 30 to 45 units. But those projects won't be ready until next summer or fall.

Last month, the Telluride Town Council agreed to consider five temporary small homes on an empty lot adjacent to a community building as an experimental solution to the region's affordable housing crunch. The idea could evolve into a community of off-the-grid tiny homes — defined as less than 400 square feet and on wheels — next to a community building where residents could access restrooms, showers and laundry machines.

The Telluride ski area last month purchased the 16-room Rico Hotel for worker housing with plans for a quick renovation to accommodate as many as 35 employees.

"It's good to see businesses are beginning to realize that housing is not just about government," said outgoing Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser.

Vail is one of the few resort towns that launched construction of affordable apartments during the economic downturn. Vail's new Lion's Ridge project — which replaced more than 90 aging Timber Ridge rental units — is only partially completed, with all 58 pet-friendly units occupied at prices that range from $1,250 for a one-bedroom to $1,890 for a two-bedroom.

The remaining new units won't be ready until next summer, and there's a growing list for those units, said George Ruther, community development director for the Town of Vail.

The other half of Timber Ridge, which the town has renovated at a cost of $1.3 million, is also full, with 54 of those 96 apartments rented to Vail Resorts for its employees. The ski resort company provides 3,000 beds to its several thousand employees in Eagle and Summit counties, home to its Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone ski areas.

The town of Vail is in the middle of planning a new affordable housing project that will offer 48 to 60 subsidized, deed-restricted homes for sale to local residents.

"From seasonal rent to homes for sale for families, we see the need is great across all the affordable housing segments," Ruther said.

Back in Summit County, King, Reiley and a pal are visiting a three-bedroom house in Frisco on Ten Mile Creek.

At $2,300 a month, it's perfect for the three who are beyond worrying about cost. As King is scrambling to fill out an application, three guys — Breckenridge ski patrollers — walk in. Landlord Chris Eby has already taken their applications. The trio are just checking in. They wait as Eby takes a call from another potential renter.

"I need to get this done," Eby said into the phone.

The longtime patrollers grab their checkbooks. They tentatively ask if Eby wants more money.

"Even if you offered, I wouldn't take it," said Eby, who owns a brokerage firm in Frisco that represents only homebuyers. "I'm not into bidding wars. It's mercenary out there."

Five years ago, when Kyle Gilmore was a freshman ski patroller, he paid $600 for a bedroom. Last month, he visited a house where a top bunk in a bedroom was available for $600.

"That makes me want to leave town," Gilmore said. "This could be my last year patrolling here."