Vail Valley Voices: Vail has always had housing challenges
August 5, 2010
Editor’s note: A work plan recently adopted by the Vail Town Council includes continued implementation of a strategic housing plan adopted in 2008. This is part one of a two-part series that chronicles Vail’s attempts to facilitate deed-restricted housing to accommodate those who choose to work and live in Vail.Employee housing is an issue as old as Vail itself. In the beginning there simply wasn’t much housing for employees. Instead, most of the housing stock built during the 1960s and 1970s was and even now is being developed to accommodate vacationers. There’s not much profitability in building housing for employees when private-sector construction of vacation homes can generate higher returns. Vail’s leadership has been searching for solutions to this problem for a long time. In the 1980s, communities to the west of Vail offered few housing options for Vail-based employees. In those days, housing was limited downvalley and there were even fewer transportation options to get to work in Vail. By the time housing became plentiful in Avon, Eagle and Gypsum in the 1990s, so did employment opportunities. Growth continues today, which has caused Vail’s work-force housing inventory to continue to lag behind the demand and has prompted the town to adopt a strategic housing plan that aims to ensure there is deed-restricted housing for at least 30 percent of Vail’s work force within the town of Vail. A cornerstone of the strategic housing plan is to increase the number of deed-restricted units, a concept first introduced in Vail in the 1980s. Deed restrictions in Vail limit occupancy of the unit to someone employed at least 30 hours per week in Eagle County. Some deed restrictions additionally limit appreciation to 3 percent per year; however, this is only for units the town of Vail has developed. In 1981, Timber Ridge Village Apartments was the first deed-restricted rental development to be built in Vail, and Pitkin Creek Park in East Vail was the first deed-restricted for-sale development. As employees and jobs moved downvalley at a rapid rate in the 1990s, Vail realized that owner-occupied deed restricted employee housing was essential to preserving its local community and employees. In 1997, Vail Commons brought 53 deed-restricted for-sale units and 18 deed-restricted rental units to West Vail. The project and the community that has formed there are a success. Following Vail Commons, the town partnered with the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District to provide 18 deed-restricted for-sale townhouses within walking distance of Lionshead. Six more for-sale units next to Ellefson Park in West Vail provided opportunities for families to enjoy all of the benefits of living in Vail. In 1998, plagued with constant overtime expenses during peak winter months, the town constructed 24 deed-restricted rental units on the grounds of the public-works shops to reduce overtime expenses and to have essential staff readily available during storms and emergencies. The town also has purchased 17 additional units in Vail as an employee-recruitment and -retention tool. Overtime expenses have been permanently reduced and can be credited to the employee housing. This allows the town to permanently provide more effective customer service to residents and guests.In 2001, prior to the construction boom in Vail, the Town Council realized the lack of available rental units in Vail was dramatically impacting customer-service standards. To improve the situation, the town set out to provide additional employee housing at Middle Creek. Recognizing child care is an important issue to working families, as well, a new 4,500-square-foot building was built for what is now the Children’s Garden of Learning. Today, Middle Creek provides affordable rental units to 250-plus employees, and the Children’s Garden offers child care for as many as 53 kids per day. These are two amazing amenities for employees in Vail, which the town made possible by providing the land at nominal annual cost to the development.In 2003, with the deed restriction expiring at Timber Ridge, the town purchased Timber Ridge Village Apartments for $20 million in order to permanently preserve the affordable deed-restricted employee-housing rental units. Today, Timber Ridge is the largest employee-housing development in Vail and houses as many as 800 employees each ski season. Upon redevelopment of the eastern half of the property in 2011, more than 1,000 employees will reside in close proximity to their jobs. This will continue to improve the customer service offered to our residents and guests.Additionally, the private sector – either for business reasons or due to development requirements – continues to offer employee-housing opportunities to its employees. Many employers offer units to their employees dispersed throughout Vail, while many hotels in Vail Village and Lionshead provide housing for their employees on-site. Not only does this improve customer service, it reduces the need for additional parking and transportation options throughout the entire community, making some of the greenest commutes to work and skiing possible.With the completion of the new Arosa Drive Duplex in June in West Vail that houses two new families, there are 669 deed restricted units in the town of Vail. These are a mix of ownership and rental units. When the Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton Residences and First Chair developments are complete, there will be an additional 191 new deed-restricted employee-housing beds in Vail, furthering the goal to provide housing for 30 percent of Vail’s work force.Nina Timm is the town of Vail’s housing coordinator.