Romer: Private, public sectors need to cooperate on workforce housing (column)

Chris Romer

The Vail Valley Partnership recently co-hosted the inaugural U.S. Mountain Community Housing Summit, with 100-plus attendees ranging from investors to developers, municipal planners to community stakeholders. Three themes came out of the housing summit that are relevant to housing efforts in Eagle County and other mountain communities:

Communities are finding ways to get to “yes” and to provide efficient entitlement processes.

Housing needs also fall in the middle, not just at the low end of the spectrum, and local municipalities, counties and developers need to ensure middle-range projects are part of the housing pipeline.

As such, it will take all types of projects, and all kinds of public-private partnerships and compromises, to solve our current and future housing needs.

The Vail Valley Partnership Board of Governors supports various projects throughout Eagle County — from Gypsum to Vail — that are good projects, in appropriate locations and help meet our community housing needs. We encourage community support of such projects.

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As locals know, Eagle County’s cost of living is higher than many other places. To no one’s surprise, housing is the key element pushing Eagle County’s overall cost of living above the U.S. average. The Council for Community and Economic Research produces an annual County Cost of Living Index that serves as a measure of relative cost of living between different locations across the county.

Eagle County’s cost of living indexes at 176.30 against a nationwide average of 100. In the CCLI, a number above 100 is more expensive than the U.S. average, and a number below 100 is less expensive than the U.S. average. Housing costs in Eagle County, however, are indexed at 340, while most other consumer goods and services in the county fall slightly above or below the U.S. average, making housing the primary driver elevating local living expenses.

Eagle County faces a gap in the availability of ownership and rental housing that is affordable for locals. Residents are burdened by high housing payments. Employees are forced to commute long distances. According to our annual workforce survey, employers believe that the availability of workforce housing is a critical or major problem in Eagle County. The Eagle County Housing Assessment shows a shortfall of 4,500 units to meet current needs.

Workforce and affordable housing has long been an issue in Eagle County. The difference today is the demographic data clearly shows an increased need for more affordable housing options for the current and future Eagle County workforce. Addressing our affordable housing issue is essential to the continued success of our business community across industry sectors.

When we look at the current affordability gap we see a $234,310 gap for a family earning 100 percent of the area median income. Even at 140 percent of that figure, there is still a $97,600 gap. These new affordability gap numbers point to the increased need for more affordable housing options for the current and future Eagle County workforce.

Our goal — and why we support in-fill housing projects in appropriate locations — is to ensure our community can remain competitive to keep locals local and to support our business community. We encourage local governments and planning boards to approve appropriate in-fill projects, and to be open-minded and flexible to grant appropriate variances to local code to facilitate the development of these projects.

The lessons learned from the U.S. Mountain Community Housing Summit should be front of mind for our appointed and elected officials. Let’s find ways to compromise and get to “yes” in order to support our community.

Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at http://www.vailvalley

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