D.R.: The affordable housing riddle
So, the population of Eagle County will hit 80,000 in the next 20 years, up from just under 50,000 now, according to the state Demographer’s Office.
And housing is becoming less and less affordable for the vast bulk of the county’s working class, including young professionals, in our lower-wage service economy, according to the Urban Land Institute.
Even now, we’re feeling the pinch with a budding labor shortage, and today we’re about 3,500 affordable housings options short of ideal because you cannot live in this county on the wages offered.
OK. Here’s the riddle: If residents are counted as people who live here year-round, and the population has been booming for the past 20 years and the boom shows no signs of abating, where are they living if they cannot afford to live here?
The second-home explosion is another related issue, and relatively few people who bought second homes here wound up retiring to them. The second-home owners account for about 70 percent of the residential property in Vail, and just under half of it throughout the county.
There is a vein, and growing one at that, of active retirees of means who have moved here permanently. But that’s a vein, not a majority.
Most of the population booms is us, people who have mortgages and need jobs ” sometimes several of them ” to pay that mortgage.
If we can’t afford to live here, how are we living here?
One of those studies is wrong. That has to be it. Personally, I think the Urban Land Institute is right about the housing situation and the effects it will increasingly have.
But if the housing study is correct, then the population projections have to be off. As the affordable housing crunch truly crunches, that will indeed dampen our economy. As the economy slows, the population boom will stall. As the population boom ends, the econony will slow further. And the cycle will spin the opposite way of the past three decades or more.
If the housing study is flawed, and it might well be since it does not account at all that I can tell for the family transfer of wealth between boomers’ parents and later from boomers to their kids, then the population will indeed keep growing while the labor shortage of service workers rolls along.
That resulting labor shortage will put some brakes on the economy until businesses learn to better account for housing. That may be more dorms and higher wages, along with higher prices for guests. The guests will go elsewhere or be wealthy enough not to blink at the prices. One is as likely as the other.
In that case, the economy will “right size” and growth will slow to that sustainable level some visionaries dream about.
Which would be better for Eagle County?
The latter, in which the population keeps booming, sets up a Third World environment of more have-nots and an even wealthier class of visitors and second-home owners. Not much of a community there.
The former is more painful but eventually balances out with workers who still live in houses here.
The twin prongs explained in the studies ” population and inability to afford a home here ” may serve to soften the blow. But I admit I’m fairly cynical and don’t really expect the citizenry to get far enough behind the political leaders’ efforts to build the housing we will rather desperately need as a community.