Will migration survey spur action on housing?
Survey shows pandemic accelerated remote-work trend
For years, state demographers have predicted Eagle County’s population would swell to more than 90,000 by 2040. A recent study shows that trend may be accelerating, and remote work is a big part of it.
The Colorado Association of Ski Towns and the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments in 2020 commissioned a Mountain Migration Survey to try to understand the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has affected where people live, and what they’re doing.
The study collected data in March and April of this year from participants in Eagle, Summit, Grand, Pitkin, Routt and San Miguel counties. Those counties contain the lion’s share of the state’s ski areas.
Council of governments director Jon Stavney, a longtime Eagle resident, a former Mayor of the town and former Eagle County Commissioner, said he found a couple of surprises in the data unearthed by the survey.
Stavney said he first thought the survey would show that second-home owners had all come and all the short-term rentals had filled.
“It turns out that COVID really accelerated the remote work thing,” Stavney said. “We live in a really wonderful place with a high quality of life. It was surprising how many (people) relocated and planned to stay.”
Another surprise came from information about the area’s rental market. People in resort areas for years have known rentals were getting more expensive, and more and more owners were switching their units to short-term rentals.
But Stavney said the survey showed many people are buying and living in former rental units. That’s both cutting the supply, and pricing out people who were already living in the region.
A lot of those buyers are people with annual household incomes of more than $150,000, Stavney said. Local residents can’t compete with newcomers who are paying cash, and offering more than asking prices, he added.
With the wealth of information available in the study, Stavney said it’s now up to community leaders — from elected officials to business owners and others — to decide what to do.
Avon resident Michael Hazard was one of the founders of the Eagle County Housing Task Force. That group, composed of residents, business leaders and local government officials, has for several years urged public-private partnerships to build more workforce housing in the county.
Hazard said the survey helped confirm what task force members have suspected for some time.
The survey results point to “a serious problem,” Hazard said. “It isn’t temporary, it’s not seasonal and it’s not going away.”
Hazard said housing supporters have to use studies like the migration study to combat workforce housing opponents. In that way, the study can be used as a tool to prod decision makers to action, he added.
“You have to develop the courage to develop more housing,” Hazard said.
Is housing really ‘essential?’
Hazard said his perception is that housing still mostly receives “lip service” from elected officials in Eagle County and its towns.
“I don’t think (housing) has risen to essential for many (office holders),” he said.
And while developable land can be hard to come by, Stavney said there are potential solutions.
Stavney noted that Summit County last year rezoned a parcel for housing that’s located next to the county government campus. That parcel had previously been zoned as designated open space. But, he added, the parcel is located between other uses, and is suitable for housing.
“A lot of things should be on the table that maybe weren’t there before,” Stavney said, adding that local governments should be looking at every piece of public property.
In Eagle and Eagle County, Stavney said Eagle County Schools has a good bit of land. A parcel on Third Street in Eagle between the fire station and Eagle Valley Elementary School could be a good candidate for housing, he said.
Eagle’s public works facility on Chambers Avenue has room for a few workforce units, although Stavney acknowledged that “not everybody wants to live at the place they work.” Still, he said, some of those sites could be used for “transitional” housing for new employees brought in from outside the valley.
Perhaps the rodeo grounds at the Eagle County Fairgrounds could be used for housing close to downtown Eagle, Stavney suggested. The rodeo grounds could be moved to the west to make room.
“We need to look at some of the crazy ideas,” he added.
70%: Part-time northwestern Colorado residents who work for an employer outside the region.
60%: New northwestern Colorado residents who work for an employer outside the region.
1.2 months: Average of the increased time part-time residents have spent in their mountain homes.
599: Full-time and part-time Eagle County residents participating in a mountain migration survey.
Source: Mountain Migration Survey.