Eagle County Housing Task Force seeks to change ‘NIMBY’ mindset on worker housing
VAIL — When Bobby Lipnick began spending most of his time in the valley a few years ago, he looked for ways to get involved in the community. He seems to have found his niche, as an advocate for workforce housing.
Lipnick, along with local architect Michael Hazard, are the volunteer co-chairs of the Eagle County Housing Task Force. That all-volunteer group has no legal authority and no budget, but all the members share the goal of helping Eagle County create more housing in the area.
Lipnick noted that the task force was quick to gather both members and momentum. The idea at first was to meet quarterly, but the 12 volunteer members quickly argued for monthly meetings. That’s what’s been happening.
The task force operates along with the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Partnership CEO Chris Romer is a member of the group, and praised its effectiveness in just a short time.
From ‘no’ to ‘yes’
The task force sponsored a 2017 event called the “NIMBY Jamboree.” The name was intentionally provocative, aimed at the Not In My Back Yard crowd.
“People said, ‘You can’t call it that,’” Lipnick said. His reply was, “We want to get people’s attention.”
The ploy worked, especially for a first-time event. Between 60 and 70 people turned out for a day-and-a-half of discussion, and was the first step in turning attitudes from “no” to “yes” on matters of workforce housing.
Some of that drive includes changing public perceptions. Lipnick said housing advocates need to work on changing the idea that employee or workforce housing has to be cheap or places neighbors wouldn’t want to live themselves.
Getting to that “yes” attitude won’t be easy, but it can be done. Lipnick recalled that after a meeting in 2018, one longtime resident talked to him about the prospect of building new housing near the Interstate 70 interchange in East Vail.
In a slide during his presentation, Lipnick showed a quote from an opponent of the idea: “Since it’s likely to happen anyway, I hope my neighbors join me in a welcoming party for the workers when they arrive in the neighborhood.”
Taking a long view
Changing minds isn’t easy, and Lipnick said it’s going to be a long process.
The task force is in for the long haul. Lipnick said when he and others were first talking about the task force, he said he only agreed to participate if the group took on a 10-year commitment.
During that decade, the task force wants to work to bring together government, developers and residents to talk about ways to build workforce housing in all the valley’s communities.
Vail Housing Director George Ruther is a task force member. After Lipnick’s presentation, Ruther said the group has been successful in its early months.
Ruther said developers have been invited to several task force meetings.
“The group provides feedback, and that’s always beneficial,” Ruther said.
Ruther added that he sees the role of the group as being a friend to housing efforts.
The task force is working now on a project to bring together information from Eagle County and the valley’s six towns — Red Cliff Minturn, Vail, Avon, Eagle and Gypsum — to have that information in one place. That can help developers and advocates understand not only the similarities but the differences in valley communities, Ruther said.
That will help local governments create a strategic plan for housing the length of the valley.
The town of Vail has put money into its 2019 housing budget for developing that plan. Ruther said he hopes other towns in the valley will also chip in for the effort.
Again, though, the task force doesn’t have any real authority.
“The task force can be an advocate,” Ruther said, adding the group can encourage conversations.
Conversations about housing go beyond just finding places for people to live. Lipnick noted that a fellow doctor recently told him his practice has far too much staff turnover. That can create a housing advocate. The task force also participated in the effort that resulted in Vail being named the world’s first sustainable mountain resort.
Housing is part of that certification, and the certification needs to be renewed in 2020. That means progress needs to be made on workforce housing in and near Vail.
The task force will play a role.
Both Ruther and Romer — also a task force member — credited the group’s efforts, in part, for bringing the Mountain Community Summit to Vail.
“There’s a buzz (about Vail’s efforts),” Ruther said. “When you have limited funding sources and a desperate need, you get real creative.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-748-2930.
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