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Hanging on to affordable housing

Bret Hartman/Daily file photoThe owner of River Run plans to turn the complex into condos, but wants to form a partnership with the county that would help local workers continue to live there.
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EAGLE-VAIL ” Liz Krinsky, art director at J. Cotter Gallery, rented an apartment at River Run until last month.

Facing the complex’s planned conversion into condos, Krinsky looked for another apartment for months until she finally found a lockoff in Eagle-Vail.

She is one of many professionals who are losing housing at the 117-apartment River Run, she said.

“There are teachers, there are nurses, there are people who work for the Sheriff’s Department,” she said. “They’re all totally feeling squeezed out.”

Some River Run residents have been asked to leave by late June. Renovations are planned to start this fall, The condo-ization of the apartments figures to leave many local workers looking for housing.

Meanwhile, Eagle County has been struggling with providing enough housing for its workers. Some have called the situation a “crisis.”

The town of Vail recently passed laws to try to get more affordable housing from developers.

“There are teachers, there are nurses, there are people who work for the Sheriff’s Department,” she said. “They’re all totally feeling squeezed out.”

Some River Run residents have been asked to leave by late June. Renovations are planned to start this fall, The condo-ization of the apartments figures to leave many local workers looking for housing.

Meanwhile, Eagle County has been struggling with providing enough housing for its workers. Some have called the situation a “crisis.”

The town of Vail recently passed laws to try to get more affordable housing from developers.

And the managing partner of the group that owns the River Run complex has attended meetings of a countywide “blue ribbon” panel that has been trying to create more housing for workers. Detroit-based developer Steve Milgrom says he is committed to trying to keep area workers in the River Run complex.

Many of the condos will be affordable to people who make up to about twice the “area median income,” Milgrom said. That’s an income of about $160,000 per year per household. Milgrom declined to offer a specific price range for the condos.

There’s a need in the community for that kind of housing, Milgrom said, and he wants to “give locals first crack at the product.”

Months ago, he started conversations with the town of Vail and the county about how they could partner to keep the apartments affordable. On Monday, Milgrom renewed talks with the county about a partnership.

“If I can do my project and fulfill a public need, I feel better about it,” he said.

Milgrom envisions a partnership with the county that would help workers buy condos and create deed-restricted homes. Under his idea, the county would identify prospective buyers and provide some type of home-buyer assistance for Eagle County workers.

The county would, in turn, benefit because a deed-restriction would be placed on the home, ensuring it would remain owned by local workers, Milgrom said.

Milgrom said he would benefit because the county would help him find buyers.

“I see that as win-win-win situation,” Milgrom said.

Milgrom said there’s probably enough demand for all of the condos to be simply sold to second-home owners, but trying to keep local workers in the complex is “the right thing to do,” he said.

K.T. Gazunis, Eagle County’s housing coordinator, said she first talked to Milgrom on Monday, and the county will explore collaborating with the developer.

“He wanted to open a discussion,” she said.

But time is running out on forming a partnership ” Milgrom said he wants to start selling the condos in July.

The Blue Ribbon Housing Committee has been meeting for months to find affordable-housing solutions

While the potential transformation of 117 apartments into largely second homes would seem to be a step back for the “housing crisis,” the committee hasn’t discussed it, said Don Cohen, who moderates the meetings as executive director of the Eagle County Economic Council.

“This project was barely on my radar,” he said, adding he would “put the ball into play” at the committee’s next meeting.

Two-hundred percent of the “area median income” is right at the cusp of the county’s affordable housing need, Cohen said.

“That is not the sweet spot,” he said. “What we’re really looking at is 100 to 150 percent. That’s a little high.”

Krinsky said she wouldn’t be able to afford in the condos into which River Run will be converted. On the other hand, she said she understand the economic realities of real estate here, and doesn’t blame the owners for trying to make money.

But housing costs might eventually force her out of the area and that’s regrettable, she said, because a community needs a middle class to thrive over the long run.

“The middle class isn’t just getting squeezed out,” she said. “It’s a death grip.”

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.


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