Vail looks to make big changes to its 20-year-old housing lottery system

Holding house keys on house shaped keychain concept for buying a new home
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What’s next?

The Vail Town Council is set to discuss changes to the 20-year-old housing lottery program at its meeting Tuesday, May 15. To see the discussion’s place on the agenda, go to

VAIL — Not many people participate in this town’s annual housing lottery. There isn’t much point. But that may change this spring.

The Vail Local Housing Authority is recommending changes to the town’s housing lottery system. Some of those changes may annoy some participants.

The current lottery — which applies to all for-sale, deed-restricted homes in town except the Chamonix townhomes — is held every year in June. But the 20-year-old system, based largely on length of residence and employment in town, is less a lottery and more a matter of coming to the top of a largely static list.

People at the top of that list have the first opportunity to buy any deed-restricted homes that come up for sale in the coming year.

Housing authority members are asking the Vail Town Council to change the system to spur more participation.

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Those changes include lifting minimum household size requirements, as well as the requirement that a participant can’t own property anywhere else in Eagle County.

Creating a true lottery

The biggest change, though, is a recommendation to move away from the system based only on length of residence and employment, a system Housing Authority Chairman Steve Lindstrom called “a longevity list.”

Vail Housing Director George Ruther said the recommendation to the council — which has the final say on the policy — includes a system that will give longtime residents more chances but also opens the lottery to people who live downvalley or are new to town.

If people’s names are written on slips of paper and then put into a basket, a long-time resident will have more slips of paper in that basket. But others will have their own slips of paper in the basket.

“They’ll at least have a chance,” Ruther said.

Then there’s the current restriction on other property ownership. Ruther noted that “no one” will sell a home and rent just to have a slight chance at coming to the top in the current system.

The question then becomes how to allow people to sell their existing homes if they happen to win a chance to buy a deed-restricted unit in Vail.

In the case of the Chamonix townhomes — which, again, operate under a different set of rules than the rest of the town’s deed-restricted inventory — buyers were required to have their old units sold by the time they closed on their new homes. Some allowances were made for people who entered the second round of that lottery.

Council members in April wondered what happens to units that lottery participants sell.

A town study found that units sold in Vail end up in the hands of second-home owners more than 90 percent of the time. That leads to the question of whether people who own units in Vail could deed-restrict and rent them.

Adding to the mix?

People selling on the free market to move into deed-restricted units don’t help the town move toward more full-time residents, Ruther noted. On the other hand, Vail Town Manager Greg Clifton noted in April that allowing the potential of someone owning one or more deed-restricted properties while living in a town-subsidized unit could be a problem.

There’s also the potential that the town might have to supervise deed restrictions up and down the valley.

Those are issues the council will have to wrestle with.

As council members work to forge a different lottery policy, this year’s lottery drawing will be delayed for a few weeks. Ruther said that could give more people a chance to participate this year.

On the other hand, it’s been a while since any of the town’s deed-restricted units have come up for sale.

“I don’t think we’ve seen a single sale this year,” Ruther said. “The market is so tight right now that people are making do with what they have.”

Ruther added that if any units do come up for sale under a revised lottery system, there’s going to be some grumbling.

“This is a circumstance where half the people (affected) will like (the changes) and half won’t,” Ruther said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or

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