Vail Valley Partnership: Striking the right housing balance for the long term
October 5, 2017
A great community needs great businesses. Without great businesses, we lose the character and service levels that differentiate us from any other resort community. Yet 93 percent of businesses indicate that employee experience in finding housing could be better and is a major frustration.
At the Vail Valley Partnership, we believe constraining housing growth results in constraining job growth, and we are working to address both housing programs and supporting our workforce to build a talent pipeline to support our businesses. It's not just a resort community issue. Workforce pressures stress businesses throughout the entire state of Colorado; currently, 94.6 percent of job growth in Colorado is in the Denver metropolitan area.
Job growth in Eagle County, and the continued success of our businesses and thus our community, is restricted by a lack of workforce housing. Sustainable communities require a balance of economic sustainability, social sustainability and environmental sustainability. This focus requires us to look forward and to apply a pragmatic approach to decision making: How does a given project balance economic, social and environmental needs?
Despite the well-recognized need for housing, coordinated efforts have been made time and again to fight much-needed projects. Consider when Red Sandstone was first proposed and the negative reaction by that neighborhood. We even had hero astronaut and Sen. John Glenn coming out against the project and saying things like, "You will be able to buy burritos at a taco wagon and repurchase your stolen skis." Fast-forward to today, and no one even knows the property is employee housing.
De-facto gated community?
Remember Middle Creek? In that case, the Spraddle Creek neighborhood came out and made similar arguments against that project. Most people don't even know it's employee housing. It sits quietly on the hillside without any real impacts.
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This same NIMBY outcry has occurred on just about every housing development that houses year-round locals. The message is nearly always the same: "It's going to ruin our neighborhood," "wildlife will be impacted," "it's not what we were promised when we bought our homes," "it's going to deliver a horrible impression of Vail for visitors," ad nauseam. The common theme? Registered voters will occupy these housing projects — folks invested in community success who are not interested in making Vail a de-facto gated community.
The benefits, programs and advocacy work at the Vail Valley Partnership are developed with the rather broad lens of economic vitality. Economic vitality isn't something that can be addressed in a vacuum; it requires a willingness to honestly look at community problems and to work with community partners to build a long-term approach to sustainable business success.
We focus on economic vitality because we recognize a simple fact: Successful businesses make a successful community, and quality of life begins with a good job. The Partnership has a vested interest in the things that make a community healthy, unlike some special-interest groups in our community that hammer against everything (events, housing and hospital redevelopment spring to mind). We're looking forward at the future, rather than bemoaning nostalgia for a time that never was.
What is the impact to the entire community of not focusing on workforce housing? Ninety-five percent of Eagle County residents recognize a lack of housing as a problem for the community. Constraining housing growth results in restraining job growth. A great community requires great businesses. Great businesses need great employees. And great employees need places to live. Let's work together to find the right balance, which just might require housing in your backyard.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at http://www.vailvalleypartnership.com.