Housing still seen as problem in Vail
July 8, 2010
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – Affordable housing might not be at the top of local government agendas lately, but that doesn’t mean the problem has gone away.
Affordable housing is something that will be ongoing, said Vail Town Councilman Kevin Foley.
An economic slump, high unemployment rates and an increased availability of rental housing in the valley haven’t changed local leaders’ minds that an affordable housing problem is a thing of the past.
The town of Vail isn’t changing its goal of getting 30 percent of the town’s workforce living in Vail, although talks about the subject have been shadowed recently by more pressing problems like parking and the economy.
With the pending redevelopment of the eastern portion of the Timber Ridge complex, combined with the 56 units at the Chomonix project which is scheduled to begin in phases next spring and Vail Resorts’ First Chair employee housing project, the town will still need about 420 more beds to meet its goal, said Nina Timm, Vail’s housing coordinator.
The goal would almost be met with the redevelopment of the western side of Timber Ridge, which would happen some time after the eastern portion. The eastern portion redevelopment is likely to break ground next spring.
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“It’s still ranked as an issue we need to address so I don’t think people think we’ve solved the problem,” Timm said. “I think the economy and parking have become much more of an issue.”
Vail Community Development Director George Ruther said the demand for housing is still there – 11 people showed up for the town housing lottery Wednesday night, three of which were families with children, and there were 11 applicants for the Arosa Drive duplex housing lottery in January.
“I don’t believe affordability is less of an issue today than it was in the past,” Ruther said.
The Economic Council of Eagle County studies affordable housing and the affordability gap – the percentage of the median home price in which double-income families cannot afford – across the county.
In a new report that hasn’t yet been released, “Affordability 2010,” the Council defines “affordable” conservatively because of new factors such as families that may not have two earners anymore, or one or both of the earners may have taken pay cuts because of the economic downturn.
Combine that with the fact that it’s much harder to get a loan now than in the past, and the affordability gap might actually be more severe than it seems, according to the report.
“Although prices have fallen in Eagle County, and may continue to do so for some portion of 2010 at least, average households are still unable to afford a home in much of the county,” the report said. “Rising unemployment makes it even more difficult to qualify for home purchase.”
Don Cohen, executive director of the Economic Council, said the gap has dropped significantly when looked at the county as a whole, meaning there are a lot more affordable opportunities to buy homes than there have been, he said.
But the overreaction by banks in response to the economic crash means a lot of people who really should qualify for a home loan are not able to qualify now, Cohen said.
The problem with the drop in home values has also created a situation where people who bought deed-restricted homes at relatively high prices face homes on the free market that are less expensive now, Cohen said.
“That’s a real challenge,” he said.
Another affordable housing issue stemming from the economic slump is the migration out of the valley because of a lack of jobs – something Cohen said is happening across the county.
It doesn’t mean there won’t be jobs in the future or that affordable housing demand will necessarily go away, but the demand certainly isn’t what it once was.
“Deed restricted housing addresses this gap between what is affordable and what is available,” according to the report. “The number of units needed to close the affordability gap is uncertain in a time of falling prices and rising unemployment. The Economic Council of Eagle County will continue to monitor home prices and wages throughout 2010.”
Cohen said the county shouldn’t necessarily hit the brakes in terms of pursuing affordable housing projects, but it should probably take its foot off the accelerator.
“This is a market in hibernation, but we need to be prepared for when it awakes,” Cohen said.
The town of Vail’s preparation is something Cohen applauds. He said Vail’s discipline to stay focused on the plan to house 30 percent of the workforce in town will pay off.
“Eventually the economy will grow back and so will the demand,” Cohen said. “They’re in front of it and they have to stay there, even if at times it doesn’t seem rational – but I do think it’s rational for (Vail).”
Vail Councilwoman Kim Newbury, who also serves on the Vail Housing Authority and lives in a deed-restricted unit she bought in West Vail, said businesses still need employees even in an economic slump.
“If anything with the economy the way it is, we need to make it easier for people to live in town,” Newbury said.
Newbury said she’d be renting or possibly living downvalley if it wasn’t for the town’s affordable housing program.
“People live where they can afford to live. Without the program, there would be fewer residents in town – we just know that,” Newbury said. “It helps add to the number of people in town.”
That’s an important detail in a town where as many as 70 percent of residents are second-home owners, with primary residences somewhere else.
Without affordable housing, local pizza shops and grocery stores wouldn’t be able to survive through the offseasons, Newbury said.
Dovid and Doba Mintz just bought one of the Arosa Drive affordable housing units and are grateful for the opportunity to stay in Vail. Dovid Mintz runs the Chabad Jewish Center in Vail and said he needs to be close to work.
“It fit very well for us, like a glove,” Dovid Mintz said. “We just had our second child – we couldn’t ask for more.”
That’s why Timm said it’s so important to remain on track for the 30 percent goal – to bring people back to Vail full-time.
“It’s creating a new generation in Vail,” she said.
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.