Vail Housing Authority taking bigger role | VailDaily.com

Vail Housing Authority taking bigger role

VAIL — This town created a housing authority in the early 1990s, but it's only recently that the Vail Local Housing Authority has any real authority.

When the Vail Town Council in 2016 approved a 10-year housing plan, the authority board was given permission to spend money to purchase deed restrictions on existing homes for sale. The idea is to put town money — roughly $3.5 million to start — into private real estate transactions in exchange for a permanent deed restriction.

That restriction is fairly simple: Unlike other deed restrictions, which limit appreciation based on either the consumer price index or area median income, the deed restrictions under the housing plan only require that owners work an average of 30 hours per week in Eagle County.

The housing authority board is authorized to make those purchases.

Steve Lindstrom is chairman of the Vail Local Housing Authority Board. He's been a member since 2001. He said giving more authority to the volunteer board is a reflection of both the current Vail Town Council and residents' wishes.

The council "has really taken to heart the issue of housing," Lindstrom said.

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Little authority

That wasn't always the case. The first housing authority board languished from lack of attention and was disbanded in less than a decade. The board was reinstated in 2001 and helped shepherd the Middle Creek apartments into reality. Several fallow years followed, through the boom of the previous decade and the slump following the national recession that began in 2008.

That downturn "brought us several years of non-crisis," Lindstrom said.

While local governments unsure of when, or if, a recovery might come had to take hard looks at their budgets, in retrospect, the downturn is when more action was needed, Lindstrom said.

As the housing problem has returned — perhaps with greater urgency — in the past few years, the will to take action has become more firm.

While much of the work on Vail's housing plan was done in town offices, Lindstrom credited the current council for guiding that plan.

"We spent time over the summer (of 2016) meeting individually with council members," Lindstrom said. "We took their advice and crafted it into a collaborative effort."

While the housing plan was passed in the summer of last year, it's still in its early stages. No deed restrictions have been purchased yet, and only time will tell if purchasing deed restrictions based only on employment will in fact create a kind of second real estate market in town aimed at local residents.

"This is a longer-term plan that will evolve," Lindstrom said. "But it's a great start."

Vail Town Council member Kim Langmaid voted for the housing plan and said she believes giving more authority to the housing authority board can be a benefit to the town.

Expertise is essential

Langmaid said the housing authority board members have a diversity of expertise in finance and other fields. With the right people on the board, Langmaid said the housing authority could have the same positive effects on town policy as the town's board dedicated to special events, economic development and other issues.

"They can elevate and maintain the priority of housing in the community," Langmaid said.

Given her background in environmental science, Langmaid said she also hopes the units the town buys deed restrictions for can also be upgraded to be more energy efficient. An older home with electric-baseboard heat isn't affordable to buyers, she said.

The board is required to give twice-yearly updates to the council, and more as requested.

Langmaid said she hopes the meetings are more frequent than required.

The Town Council this month will choose a new member for the housing authority board. Langmaid said she'll be looking for applicants who can complement the people already on the housing authority board.

"I think it would be nice to have someone who has experience with working with deed restrictions and working with the community of buyers," Langmaid said.

Whoever joins the board had better be ready to serve on a group that's now finding its way toward a far more active role in town affairs. That role is likely to evolve, perhaps rapidly.

That's good news to Lindstrom, who said he's encouraged with recent movement on Vail's housing scene.

"We're close to approving private-sector apartments (at the proposed Marriott Residence Inn in West Vail)," Lindstrom said. "There need to be more Chamonix (townhome) type projects. And there's room for some bigger governmental things. … We've got a good start. Now we need to continue."

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.

Join the board

There’s a vacancy on the Vail Local Housing Authority. Applicants must be either a full-time resident of Vail, or a full-time Eagle County resident employed by a business licensed in Vail.

The position is voluntary, but members are eligible to receive a blue parking pass. Applications are due Feb. 10 by 5 p.m.

More information is available on the town’s website.