Colorado's mountain communities grapple with shortages as wealthier neighbors move_freckle removal

Daliah Singer·5 min read

TELLURIDE, Colo. — Set in a box canyon surrounded by 13,000-foot peaks, Telluride has long appealed to adventure-seekers and vacationers. But as the Covid-19 pandemic drags on, a balance has shifted: Out-of-towners working remotely have moved in, forcing longtime locals out.

In Silverton, a remote town in southern Colorado, workers are living in campers or cars because they can’t find homes. Others are forced to commute up to 100 miles over mountain passes to get to work or crowd into one-bedroom apartments to afford rent.

In Telluride, there were some days last summer that restaurants had to close their doors because of the number of tourists and lack of employees, said Hayley Nenadal, a filmmaker who lives in the historic town known for its challenging ski slopes and annual film festival.

“You just don’t get coffee anymore, or you just don’t go to dinner anymore, or you just don’t have a place for your friends to gather anymore,” Nenadal said. “The large impact people feel is a loss of community and the loss of quality of life.”

With the pandemic affecting people and institutions across the U.S. in countless ways, housing has become an inflection point for cities struggling to retain their workforces and local businesses. The issue has long been a challenge in Colorado’s mountain communities, but the pandemic has pushed it into overdrive, residents and experts say.

Telluride, Colo., at sunset. (Cascade Creatives / Shutterstock)
Telluride, Colo., at sunset. (Cascade Creatives / Shutterstock)

“It took what was a slowly growing problem and made it a rapidly growing problem,” said Jason Peasley, executive director of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority in Steamboat Springs. “It’s very difficult for the local wage earners to compete with those folks that are coming from out of town with significantly higher resources.”

An issue that once affected mostly low-wage earners has moved to the middle class, impacting teachers, police officers and nurses. The situation has forced high-country locales to come up with creative ways to ease the shortage, like limiting the number of short-term rentals in a community or raising taxes on people who own second homes and leave them vacant for long periods of time.

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