Vail Daily column: Housing solutions sought
October 7, 2016
The following is an excerpt from a report by the Vail Homeowners Association board of directors. The association keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside of the Vail community. The electronic version with links to supporting documents is available at http://www.vailhomeowners.com.
Vail is blessed with many qualities: a superb environment, no-par cultural events, the famous Back Bowls and much more, but low-to-middle-income housing is not one of them. Limited land, high demand and ever-escalating housing prices have resulted in a high-income housing market.
Housing has been a perennial problem in Vail, but this year it seemed to rise to a crescendo as many business owners complained about the difficulty of finding and keeping adequate staff to run their businesses. As the complaints have risen, the political pressure to find a solution has intensified.
Vail's housing needs are not all the same. Retail businesses need mostly seasonal workers. Other businesses — Vail Resorts, for example — have need for both seasonal and full-time skilled middle class workers. And still other businesses — the Vail Valley Medical Center, for example — need mainly skilled, full-time, middle-class workers. A plan that addresses only one aspect of housing needs will satisfy some but leave other businesses' needs unaddressed.
Until recently, the focus of housing initiatives has been on middle class housing for permanent, full-time workers' families. For example, Vail has purchased individual properties and placed deed restrictions on them. It acquired the Timber Ridge property and recently redeveloped half of it, the Middle Creek housing project was developed, and a residential project at Chamonix Road is about to be launched. While some of these properties could have provided seasonal worker housing, most are either in private ownership or leased on a yearly basis.
There has been some employer-provided seasonal housing — Vail Resorts built the First Chair apartments in Lionshead and leases units at Timber Ridge, and other employers have private housing for their employees — but for the most part, there was an unspoken assumption that homeowners would rent sufficient seasonal housing to fill seasonal needs. That has changed with the rise of rent by owner markets, which convert what could have been seasonal housing into short-term visitor rentals.
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With essentially no public participation in the public vetting process, Vail just recently adopted the "Vail Housing 2027 Plan." It was proposed by the Vail Local Housing Authority, and, on the surface, it appears to be a bold plan to add 1,000 deed restricted homes over the next 10 years. Two aspects of the plan seem troubling. First, it is very pricey, costing at least $50 million. To give some idea of the scale of this plan, the entire Vail Housing Program Funds (funded with housing fee in lieu fees) today totals only $3 million, and the total 2016 town capital budget is just approximately $32 million (including the use of $15 million in capital reserves). Second, there is no plan for seasonal worker housing.
It seems strange that Vail would embark on a $50 million plan, which could cost even more before it is over, with essentially no public vetting. That there would be limited public participation in the vetting of the plan seems even stranger since, according to the plan brochure, all of town governance contributed to the plan.
There is no doubt that affordable housing is a problem that needs to be solved. The Vail Homeowner Association fully supports doing so, but it advocates that it should be done with sensible, well-vetted, transparent solutions. Those solutions must be comprehensive, realistic and within the financial ability of Vail to sustain. Those solutions, also, should recognize that Vail is no longer a solitary community; the entire valley is now so interconnected that isolated solutions are most apt to be inadequate.
The Vail Homeowners Association board is Gail Ellis, president; Judith Berkowitz, secretary; Rob Ford, treasurer; and directors Jamie Duke, John Gorsuch, John Lohre, Andres Nevares, Trygve Myhren, Larry Stewart and Doug Tansill.