While Tourism Booms in Telluride Because Of Its Recreation And Festivals, Its Housing Market Is At A Crossroads

A ballot initiative to cap short-term rentals gains some momentum, but not everyone supports it

The Telluride Daily Planet recently reported that the town has suspended issuing new short-term rental licenses, halting applications after a rush of submissions.

During the summer, a grassroots citizens’ ballot initiative gained support for its calls to permanently cap short-term rental licenses. One of the more contested parts of the proposal suggested distributing the capped licenses through a lottery system, a move critics say could destabilize businesses and longtime residents alike.

While not everyone is on board with the finer details of their proposal, many agree the conversation to address housing shortages is overdue. 

Some residents like Doug Sanders said they’re stuck in the middle — they aren’t rich enough to afford exorbitant prices nor are they dealing with the instability others describe.

A resident of Telluride for 22 years, he owns his home and a commercial space he leases out. As a surveyor and ski instructor, Sanders said income from his jobs alone would not be enough to sustain himself. He fears the ballot initiative would take away his short-term rental license for his commercial property. 

“I have a property that would probably appraise at $1.5 million that I can’t afford to sell because where am I going to go?” Sanders said.

Like many longtime residents, he’s worked hard for his slice of paradise, holding onto his home through a handful of recessions.

“I’m just getting to the point now where I have a purchase, but the only way I can pay off my mortgage before my body gives out on teaching skiing is to short term rent my place,” he said.

Sanders cites other examples of families relying on Telluride’s robust short-term rental market to pay off their mortgage outside of town. Should they lose the ability to rent those spaces, they may also lose the places they do call home.

Like Levin and Contillo, Sanders said he worries the new year-round influx of people outside of festival and ski season has brought unintended consequences. It’s an issue that has spilled over into increased traffic complaints and a shortage of spots in schools for the children in town.

Contillo is also concerned the jump in housing costs could price out essential workers, who work at things like the job her husband held when they first arrived in Telluride: driving the snowplow to clear streets in winter. 

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
An old wood frame home in Telluride carries a poster of the modern condominiums that will take its place, on Sunday, August 29, 2021.

Some residents want different approaches to solving the housing shortage

As a realtor, Anna Wilson laments the housing shortage for a different reason.

“It’s hard for any buyer at any price point to come into the Telluride market and purchase something. We have really low inventory and a lot of people who want to get into it,” she said.

Like Sanders, Wilson is skeptical that the ballot initiative will lead to the change proponents are hoping will solve some of the town’s issues. 

“There’s been so many demographics buying here that I don’t really see putting a limit on that making such a change,” said Wilson.

She also cited in-progress construction projects that are slated to bring affordable housing to the area, although proponents of the initiative said there’s no time to wait for future housing.

However, capping the number of short-term rentals isn’t what Wilson recommends. She sees a way forward through helping businesses directly. 

“I’m wondering if maybe there’s something that the town government can do to subsidize these local businesses, to be able to pay people, a signing bonus, something to get people to work and to work in the restaurant industry and in the service industry, even if it’s not something that they necessarily want or need to do,” she said.

Sanders would like to see more discussion among the sides of the debate. 

“If everybody gets together and beats their heads on it, we can work out something that everybody gives a little on,” he said. “Nobody’s figured it out, but the more desirable your place is to live, the more acute the problem is going to be.”