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Housing crunch returns

I’ve had a lot of obsessions in my life. Too many to list here, actually. But one that I’m really proud to admit was the Middle Creek apartment complex.I had such a focus on employee housing that everyone within earshot ran the other way when the topic was raised. I was clearly relentless. There was a joke around. Remember the movie “Six degrees of Separation”? Everyone was convinced that I could take any topic and within six steps turn it into a housing discussion.Even today, after Middle Creek’s unqualified success, there are those diehards who still bemoan its existence. But it’s hard to argue with success. And successful this project is. It has provided housing for countless employees without whom our service levels would suffer immeasurably. And sorry, folks. No rampant crime. No gang rapes. No drunken brawls. No rowdy nude and lewd episodes. Just a bunch of young adults – well, maybe that’s pushing it a little – who work hard to service the needs of our guests and by the way, locals as well. So except for those who can neeeever admit they’re wrong, Middle Creek represents a huge home run for Vail and is the envy of other ski resorts.Why do I bring this up now? Well, I thought that Middle Creek would give us some breathing room in our quest to house our workforce. But I was wrong.Only just completing its second ski season, and not even yet celebrating a full two years until December, the demand has outstripped the supply. And according to projections, it’s going to get considerably worse. The Vail Local Housing Authority just presented its “Housing Strategy White Paper,” and it’s really important that you know what it said. Like many topics I’ve tackled before, this one will take more than one column. So here goes on No. 1. The stated goal of the report is “to define the employee housing problems facing the town of Vail and provide a variety of possible solutions,” acknowledging that there is no single solution to meet the increased demand.They certainly got my attention when they stated what this will mean in the future. Without intervention, in the very near future, the town will have a population that is divided into two groups.The first will be the unemployed resident, which is defined as the active retiree and traditional second-home owner. The second group will be comprised of 1,316 employed locals who will reside in the current deed-restricted housing units. This requires some explanation. But first let’s explore the goal up to this point.The town, after many, many years of ignoring the employee housing shortage, finally determined a few years back that there should be a goal of housing 30 percent of the workforce within the town limits. For all intents and purposes, that goal has been achieved. But like a lot of other targets, they have to be adjusted as circumstances change.Several factors have changed dramatically since that goal was established. The old numbers were based on the old inventories. Yet a major shift has taken place, as we probably always knew was inevitable. Units that have historically been occupied by local employees have turned over with some remarkable results.Currently there are 6,412 dwelling units in the town, with 1,520 being designated as employee households, either owned or rented. But that’s shrinking.Last year, 46 percent of the sales of the units that typically fit the definition of “employee housing” were purchased by out-of-area buyers and have been removed from the rental pool. That’s expected to continue. So the supply is decreasing.Alternatively, the demand is increasing, albeit slower now than is anticipated when several major projects come on line.Middle Creek, with 142 deed-restricted rental apartments and less than 2 years old, is already fully occupied with a waiting list expected this fall.Timber Ridge has 198 deed-restricted rental apartments, of which 139 are master leased. Forty-two are currently not approved for occupancy.The Commons, with 53 deed restricted for sale and 18 deed-restricted rental units, has very little turnover and a long list when units do become available.Other town inventory includes six deed-restricted units for sale at North Trail Town Homes and 18 more at Red Sandstone Creek; 24 deed-restricted rentals at Buzzard Park; 12 rentals at Creekside; five deed-restricted buy downs at various locations around town; and 148 dee- restricted units that are privately owned. These 624 deed-restricted employee housing opportunities represent 9 percent of the total housing inventory.Just to round out the picture, there are current obligations owed to the town by developers that will ad to that list. They are: Vail Resorts, 144 employee beds; Vail Plaza Lodge, 39 beds; Four Seasons, 28 employee units; Westhaven, 4,400 square feet of deed-restricted employee housing; and Crossroad, when it goes forward, housing for 12 employees. This will result in approximately an additional 257 employee beds.But none of this will meet the demands that are on the horizon. Now you have some of the basic information, and next week I’ll give you more. Then we’ll explore what it all means to us. What the future demands will be. What will happen if we do nothing. Or better yet, what options we have for mitigating those demands to ensure that we maintain a viable work force in Vail.It’s not only for the benefit of our guests. It’s because we as residents need services, too. But more importantly, we need an active local population to provide heart and soul to our community.It’s going to take work. And commitment. But you’ll have to wait until next week for part 2. Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail towncouncil@vailgov.com. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail vailinfo@vailresorts.com. For past columns, go to vaildaily.com and click on “Columnists” or search for keyword “ferry.” Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily. Vail, Colorado


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