LTR housing

Telluride Housing Department Director Melanie Wasserman spoke at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting about an idea that would offer incentives to owners of short-term rentals to convert them to long-term rental properties as a way to help alleviate Telluride’s housing shortage. (Photo by Suzanne Cheavens/Telluride Daily Planet)

Officials intimate with regional housing issues have often pointed to the dramatic uptick of short-term rental properties as one of the factors affecting the lack of long-term rental opportunities for local workers. AirBnB, VRBO and other short-term rentals can be attractive for property owners looking to monetize lock-offs, condos, single-family homes or back shacks by opening them up to town’s numerous summer and winter visitors.

Given that providing housing opportunities for locals is one of this iteration of Telluride Town Council’s top goals, the board is always open to ideas to further that. At Tuesday’s town council meeting morning work session, they heard a proposal from Telluride Housing Department Director Melanie Wasserman that could potentially open up more long-term rental housing by incentivizing short-term rental property owners to make the switch to long-term renting.

“I want to be part of the solution,” Wasserman said in her opening remarks. “I’m on the front lines of who needs housing. I get five to six inquiries per day.”

Not everyone fills out an application, especially when they hear just how long the wait lists are — Shandoka Apartments has 133 on its list, The Boarding House has 53 people waiting, and the Virginia Placer’s apartments and tiny homes have a wait list 57 strong.

“We’re not having a problem filling any unit anywhere,” she said.

One-bedroom units are the top request of about half the applicants, she added.

The idea Wasserman floated would offer incentives to short-term rental owners and is based on the Housing Works program, which is part of Summit County’s Family Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC). The program, she explained, would leverage already-existing properties so it would not require the costs of new construction. Incentives could include screening of potential tenants, providing free property management and providing a rent guarantee should a tenant cease paying rent.

Renters would have to qualify by being employed full-time within the Telluride School District boundaries and, drawing from FIRC guidelines, be approved “based on rent to income ratio (RTI). For an applicant to be approved, he/she must demonstrate an RTI below 45 percent. For example, an applicant seeking a two-bedroom apartment at $1800 a month must have an income of $4000 a month or greater (45 percent of monthly income is going to rent).”

FIRC’s program also ensured one-year leases, though Wasserman suggested a local program could be more flexible given the seasonal nature of much of the work available in Telluride such as visiting ski patrollers and construction-based workers.

Possible partners in the program, Wasserman said, could include the three area governments, Trust for Public Housing and other regional housing players. Just who would run the program would be an issue as there is the potential for, she said, “too many cooks in the kitchen.”

“It would be really worthwhile to have an honest conversation about what best serves the community and the town,” she said.

Just 10 more long-term leases added to the rental pool would represent a 5 percent increase, she said. “Every little bit counts.”

Council was receptive to the concept.

“This is awesome,” said council member Geneva Shaunette. Shaunette wondered if those currently renting long-term —“for already doing the right thing” — could be the recipient of some of the proposed incentives.

“It is all up for discussion,” Wasserman said.

Council member Tom Watkinson, too, was open for further discussions and suggested getting the Telluride Association of Realtors on board as a potential partner.

Shirley Diaz, the executive director of the San Miguel Regional Housing Authority, also voiced support.

“It’s a great regional service,” she said. “We’re here to help be a part of it.”

In other housing-related business, assistant town clerk Ashley Berard gave council an update on town’s short-term rental (STR) properties. Her office handles oversight, licensing and auditing of STRs. Essentially, she reported, license-holders are “98 percent compliant.” And, Berard said, 23-25 percent of the people who visit Telluride stay in short-term rental units, which are distributed throughout residential and other zoned districts. In 2019, there are so far, 643 licenses issued with 52 in the residential zone district and 591 elsewhere within town limits.

Council member DeLanie Young wondered if there were any properties that fell through the cracks.

“Realistically? Absolutely,” Berard said. “People can be very crafty.”

Town Attorney Kevin Geiger assured council that property owners in violation, whether from expired licenses or renting their units longer than permitted, experienced the full extent of his department’s legal ramifications.

“We have recourse,” he said. “We take this very seriously.”

Still, council member Todd Brown said, “People will always try to game the system.”