Vail Daily column: It’s time to talk housing
In the wake of the recession, the county had a multi-year reprieve from the high cost of housing. Well, not anymore. Residents and employers alike are feeling the squeeze.
Rental units are 99 percent occupied. County-owned housing units for low-income families and seniors have a wait list of two to four years.
The median home price has increased 17 percent over the past two and a half years to $586,250. This is out of reach for many who could afford to buy on the Front Range — our workforce competitor — or in other areas.
It is tough to find employees. According to a Vail Valley Partnership survey of local employers, 56 percent say the housing shortage negatively affects their ability to attract, hire and retain a workforce. The last time local housing impacted businesses to this degree was seven years ago.
And then there are the social consequences: Individuals and families living in substandard housing, including rented garages and unfinished basements; overcrowding with multiple families in one dwelling unit; children having to change schools more than once as their housing options dwindle; and parents commuting from outside the county, spending less time with their kids.
We get calls from constituents asking, “What’s the county doing about housing?”
The county offers programs like down payment assistance. We run the Valley Home Store to help residents locate and purchase deed-restricted homes. The county is also a landlord, owning and operating Lake Creek Village Apartments, Riverview and Seniors on Broadway. Rents generated from these properties help us invest in more housing, albeit on a small scale. In the short term, the county has the opportunity to develop or financially support between 30 and 38 new affordable units, all rentals. Is this enough?
Tonight, the Board of County Commissioners invites the community to have a conversation about affordable housing. We want to discuss sustainable solutions and how large a role residents expect the county to play. For example, neighboring counties have a revenue stream in the form of a sales tax or transfer tax, which allows them to buy and bank land. Is this model right for Eagle County or should we primarily leave the issue to employers? Can developers, who are required to provide a certain level of affordable units, make the numbers pencil out on their own given the high cost of land? These are questions we would like to discuss.
Our housing is subject to the pressures of a resort market. The average worker can’t afford the average home price because we’re competing with Front Range and out-of-state or international buyers on the second home market. Rental stock is decreasing as more and more units are turned into short-term rentals. A one-day website review revealed between 700 and 1,500 units listed on the vacation rental market in Eagle County.
Land in our community is scarce, which drives up housing costs. Eighty percent is federally owned and much of the remaining 20 percent is privately owned, including ranch land that is not in the core of our communities.
Eagle County workers consistently make less, too. The difference in our average weekly wage over time has averaged $216 per week less than the state as a whole.
A healthy economy is sustained by a stable, well-rounded workforce. A healthy community is sustained by residents able to put down roots, work, and play where they live. Housing is at the root of both. We hope you will join the conversation. Please visit http://www.eaglecounty.us/commissioners for information on how to participate.
The Eagle County Board of Commissioners is Jeanne McQueeney, Kathy Chandler-Henry and Jill Ryan.