Vail Daily column: It’s time for a solution
Imagine being invited to a party and then walking into an empty room. No decorations, no music, no cake, no energy or excitement in the air. It certainly wouldn’t feel as though it was going to be fun, or that someone even cared enough to get things ready. In fact, you may even wonder if you’re in the right place.
The room with the nonexistent party is analogous to our future unless we proactively address the affordable housing issue in Eagle County. This needs to be done in a thoughtful, pragmatic manner with a recognition of the importance of affordable housing on providing not only a great vacation experience for our visitors, but a foundation of workforce for our business community across industry sectors.
The importance of laying the proper groundwork before attempting to solve a problem is emphasized in a popular statement that is usually attributed to the scientific luminary Albert Einstein: “If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution.”
The lesson is that it is important to understand the problem and to review all the variables and root causes before diving into solutions. This framework reminds me of the five Ps of success — proper planning prevents poor performance, and is a good way to remember what is necessary to achieve and complete any project successfully. Let’s apply the five Ps to affordable housing, by far the number one issue facing our business community based on my daily conversations with business owners and managers.
Regardless of what it is you are doing, there is a proper way to approach and execute the task. There are steps to follow and specific tools you will need in order to complete any project efficiently and skillfully. Regardless of business size, location or industry, business owners and managers indicate that affordable housing is their biggest challenge. Addressing affordable workforce housing is a proper use of community time, effort and funding.
A detailed, well thought-out plan is important when starting a task — especially a community-wide effort to tackle a fundamental challenge as large as affordable workforce housing. Thoughtful, detailed planning is important to ensure time and money are not wasted in the process, and to ensure the outcome meets essential community needs. We have successful community models in our neighboring communities, including Pitkin and Summit, and a good awareness of the local housing situation from private and public entities to ensure a good plan is in place to address housing in our community. Our changing demographics of citizens aging in place only exasperate our affordable housing challenge.
As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” We’ve talked about our affordable housing challenges for years and years.
It’s time to stop talking and to start acting in order to prevent further paralysis by analysis. We can’t control the high cost of housing caused by the international and domestic demand for housing in our valley; we do have the ability to control our future through a countywide affordable housing program. This can prevent the further decay of our workforce in the prime of their careers and increase the ability of our businesses to expand and grow.
If something is done poorly, why bother? We have successful models and public and private partnerships designed to address workforce housing, such as Miller Ranch, The Riverwalk at Edwards, Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Vail Resorts, Lions Ridge and successful models in neighboring communities.
A multi-jurisdictional countywide housing effort with proper focus and governance is a good step to avoid poor future community results.
Staying focused and actively involved with public and private stakeholders, to ensure various voices are heard and the needs of all industries are met, will be key to a housing program that meets our current and future community needs. We need to catch up to current and future demand (more than 11,000 units, per the Eagle County Housing Needs Assessment). Performance of a housing authority will be judged on reducing this number throughout time.
For comparison sake, let’s call the past 50 or more years dating back to the development of Vail Mountain in 1962 an hour; it is safe to say Einstein would agree that we’ve spent 55 minutes of our hour defining the problem — and the problem is a lack of affordable housing. Now we’re in crunch time: we have 5 minutes to solve the problem. The five Ps of success should be applied to housing — and show that now is the time to move forward in a meaningful way. The continued success and growth of our community and our small businesses demand it.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership.