Bookworm owner: When there is nowhere to live, there is no one to work (letter)
March 29, 2018
Dear editor: When my husband and I moved to Eagle County in 2002 from Chicago, we rented a 400-square-foot, one-bedroom, basement apartment in West Vail for $1,000 a month. I remember there were 42 stairs to the front door. I remember there was a bear that fleeced the fridge on the day we moved in. The rent was more than double what we paid in Chicago, and I remember thinking it was all worth it as long as I could live here.
It's true that housing has always been expensive in Eagle County (and in mountain towns generally), but never before has there been such a shortage. This is largely due to the shrinking number of available, long-term rental properties with no matched increase in the supply of apartment buildings or affordable-housing complexes. Most apartments formerly rented to newcomers have been converted to short-term vacation rentals, thanks to the ease and profitability of online listing.
The Vail Daily outlined this fact in two articles published on Saturday, March 24 ("Short-term rental income by the numbers," "Some landlords leaving rent-by-owner business"). And I understand the upside — more income is hard to look past. But this advantage to homeowners comes at a cost to the labor pool in Eagle County.
When there is nowhere to live, there is no one to work. When there is no one to work, there is a significant drop in service and selection. Just last month, The Bookworm had to shorten its hours until we recruited enough new staff to bring the hours back to normal.
That's how real it is.
The Bookworm operates with a community-first mission, which is why I decided to involve its customers in this conversation. The way I see it, it's a problem we can do something about, one person and one apartment at a time.
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While the authorities work on a master plan, I challenged my customers to take the Shop Local approach to housing. I asked them to think about de-listing their online rentals and offer them, instead, to someone who wants to put roots down and create a life here. To offer it to someone who wants to work and raise a family here. To offer it to someone for the long term because it's the right thing to do for our community.
In less than a week, I've received responses from more than 50 community members supporting this idea. Some supporters are other business owners who have shared their stories of limiting hours and running a bare-bones operation in order to stay open. Others are employees who have decided to raise their families here but fear they're one Airbnb conversion away from losing their homes. Still others have responded with a vow to spread the word and take action with their own properties.
I urge the Vail Daily to cover the labor shortage in relation to the housing crisis and to consider the costs of promoting activities that make living here full time less and less desirable for our workforce.
All my best,
Proprietor, The Bookworm of Edwards
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