Arn Menconi: A real housing emergency | VailDaily.com
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Arn Menconi: A real housing emergency

Arn Menconi
Vail CO, Colorado

There are thousands of hardworking families in Eagle County struggling for survival in the fast-growing separation between the haves and have-nots in our beautiful community. Over the past seven years as your Eagle County Commissioner, I have watched this trend only get worse. When I took office, thousands of individuals and families could attempt to buy their first home between Edwards and Eagle-Vail ” but not in Vail.

Now, there are few if any homes or condominiums families can afford within that 20-mile section where the majority of the jobs are located. Only 54 percent of homes in Eagle County are owner-occupied, and that number is only going down. As the trend continues, this means there is less community and fewer individuals to work the increasing number of jobs in our growing economy. Without affordable homes, affordable health care, access to quality education, transportation and child care opportunities, our communities will evaporate.

You couldn’t say that a few years ago, because there wasn’t the data to support this “inconvenient truth.” We didn’t know just how critical the job-to-housing ratio really was. We didn’t have studies that indicated how important of an issue this was to you, and some politicians didn’t want to even assess these indicators.

Well, if the leaders of this community don’t act fast in the next couple of years, we are going to lose not only the employee base for job growth, but the base for existing jobs. We are going to make it less likely for hardworking families to stay here and for new generations to grow and prosper.

This isn’t a “sky-is-falling” threat; this is playing out right now, every day. Vail is only 35 percent owner-occupied. Our Edwards and Avon homes are quickly becoming second homes ” or occupied by full-time semi-retirees who don’t fill jobs. Ask yourself if you could buy back your own home, or if your co-worker -” who is in his or her late 20s or 30s ” could buy a first home.

“Affordable” now means a condo in Gypsum or Eagle that starts at $300,000 to $400,000. This takes an annual income of $97,000 for a family of four to buy. How many of those jobs are there in the county? Not many.

So that is why I believe government officials need to immediately work together to do the following things to make and save the working class and our economy.

– Pool together our resources to buy and develop affordable housing. Miller Ranch is held up as the example, but another Miller Ranch is not possible without partnering dollars. The county commissioners just earmarked $5 million dollars to create new housing.

– Enact uniform housing guidelines that require new development to pay its way by providing housing for the jobs such developments create. The county commissioners will consider new legislation in the next month.

– Find developers who specialize in affordable housing and who understand the creative ways to build housing for community residents. The commissioners will consider one within the next three to six months.

– Sign a Declaration of Commitment to work together on specific goals that would develop thousands of new homes over the next two to three years that are a mix of size and value, and that are deed restricted so we have a rolling stock of housing. This was met with resistance by the towns, so no such declaration was developed last year. Let’s hit the “replay” button and get it done in 2008.

– As local elected officials, we need to stop looking to create housing just in our towns. Let’s work together and look at our 50-mile long valley to preserve and grow our working class. Few of our residents live and work in the same town, and a husband and wife might work in different towns. Think beyond our borders and about how people live, work and play. Develop a multi-jurisdictional housing and master plan that has goals. This is being discussed but not developed. I challenge all towns to sit down and develop this within the next six months.

– Have both the political courage to act for your constituents and those that are to follow. Lay the groundwork knowing that you are going to be criticized for bold action. Lead, follow or get out of the way.

This isn’t voodoo or socialized policies. This is the only economic strategy that will work to build the number of houses we need to keep our working families local, preserve and grow our economy and maintain our community.

Government can’t do it alone. If you’re a local worker who wants to make Eagle County home, ask your elected officials what they are doing to provide a long-term affordable housing stock so that there are teachers, police officers, firefighters, bus drivers, nurses, doctors, managers and all the other jobs that make up the working fabric of our community. I need your help. Do it now for the sake of all of us.already having.

Arn Menconi is an Eagle County Commissioner. E-mail comments about this column to letters@vaildaily.com.


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