Eagle County families take urgent housing needs to Facebook
October 14, 2016
EAGLE COUNTY — Tucked in among questions about potty-training and plumber recommendations, the popular Vail Moms Facebook page recently featured an urgent appeal for housing from Ariel Graham.
Graham isn't a single, ski season transient. She is the married mother of a 4-year-old and a 9-month-old and she actually grew up in the valley. She moved away to attend college but she always wanted to return to her hometown. The trouble is, even though both Graham and her husband are employed full-time, they are having a very difficult time making their move work.
Since April, Graham and her husband and two children have been living in a bedroom at her parents' home. Every day Graham scours the Vail Daily classifieds, Craigslist and other options to try to find a rental for her family. Earlier this month, she made her Facebook appeal.
The Grahams figure they can afford to pay about $1,300 per month in rent. That's their definition of "affordable." But they have realized that number isn't realistic and are looking at second jobs so they can afford up to $1,900 per month and the estimated $4,000 needed for deposits and first-and-last month payments.
"There's nothing out there that's really affordable," said Graham. "We were told the waiting list for affordable housing is four years."
Low pay, high rent
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The Grahams are a living example of the low pay/high rent ratio that is hitting hard in Eagle County. Add in the cost of child care and its very hard for young families to make the numbers work.
"I pay $800 per month for child care and that is insanely cheap," said Graham.
When she posted her dilemma on Vail Moms, Graham said the discussion got heated. A number of people responded that Graham should have known that this valley was expensive.
"Some people said 'If you can't afford it, leave,'" said Graham. "But people don't realize we are rooted here."
As for the idea of home ownership, that's a pipe dream for the Grahams. "When rent is so high, you don't have money for a down payment," she said.
No place to park
Andrea Renee Foster actually owns a home. She just doesn't have any place to park it.
For the past three years, Foster and her husband and three children have resided in a RV that they are still paying off. Initially, their travel trailer was situated at the county's sole RV park in Dotsero, but the family eventually moved to a property in Gypsum where they worked as caretakers for an older woman. But their long-term RV use in the town is not allowed, so the Fosters had to move out of their RV. They are temporarily living in the main house at the property where their RV is parked. Foster doesn't know what she will do about housing.
"There is no other option for us," she said. "I am working in this community and I am just trying to put a roof over my daughters' heads and have running water."
The Fosters have applied for a Habitat for Humanity home and they are awaiting word to see if they qualify. In the meantime, same the Grahams, they search for affordable housing options.
This fall Eagle County voters will decide if a 20-year, 0.3 percent sales tax should be instituted to address this area's housing needs. The ballot question spells out that the purposes of the new sales tax would include providing and improving the quality, availability and affordability of housing in Eagle County. The ballot question calls out down payment assistance, acquisition of affordable workplace housing and public/private partnerships as examples of what the housing program will finance.
But while the ballot question is aimed at helping people like the Grahams and the Fosters, that assistance is so conditional and so far down the road, neither family is grasping at that straw.
"There has to be a more economical way for people to live in this valley," said Foster. "There has to be a way for people to get their feet underneath them. I am so fed up with all of it."
As they continue their respective housing searches, the Grahams and the Fosters noted that they don't see themselves as a drain on county resources, but rather an important part of the local economy.
"We are part of this community. People need us and need our jobs. So if people need us, how are we supposed to live here?" said Graham.
Graham noted she hasn't studied ballot question 1A in depth, but she hopes that valley businesses and officials recognize the need to address the local workforce housing shortage.
"I hope the community does come up with some solutions that are readily available to families," she said "There's got to be a better way. We are just one family of many hard-working families, just struggling to make it. This is a huge problem."