Eagle County Housing Task Force: Moving beyond words into action on community housing

Kristin Kenney Williams and Bobby Lipnick
Valley Voices

There’s been a lot of wordsmithing lately in trying to find solutions for our ongoing housing crisis, and among forward-thinking graduation speeches and common catchphrases across such life events include: collaboration, partnership, do right, do good, give back, make your community a better place.

The volunteer-member Eagle County Housing Task Force has pledged in 2023 to move beyond words and into action. While “but how?” is a common refrain, here are examples of housing action that meet the very intent of the aforementioned wordsmithing.

First, many of us know the Ben and Celine Krueger Family of Vail. Ben and Celine first arrived in Vail in 1967 and raised their four children here. Celine passed away in 2007 and Ben in 2021. One asset left to the children, who are all currently living in the Eagle River Valley with their own families, was a mobile home park located near Glenwood Springs.

John Krueger, and his sister, Celynn, attended a recent Eagle County Housing Task Force meeting to outline how they honored their father’s wishes by not selling the 20-unit park in typical fashion — to a private group that buys mobile home parks only to displace residents or crank up rents, no longer offering affordable housing.

John said it wasn’t easy. It took time, relationship- and trust-building, and a willingness to leave far greater profits on the table. The Krueger family worked with Carbondale-based Roaring Fork Community Development Corp., the affordable housing arm of the nonprofit Manaus, to sell the 3-Mile Mobile Home Park. Ultimately, Manaus will transfer ownership to the park residents, keeping this small but special neighborhood in place.

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The deal also took creativity. Manaus partnered with the Aspen Valley Land Trust to sell a conservation easement on an undeveloped parcel within the park, and they sought out grants and donations — all to bring down the price for residents from the $2.4 million Manaus paid to the Kruegers.

“It’s what Ben would have wanted,” John said.

Protections for mobile home park residents have improved with a 2022 Colorado law that allows residents to sign over their right-of-first refusal to a nonprofit or public organization. Most recently, and similar to the 3-Mile Mobile Home Park deal, with donations and a loan, the Yampa Valley Housing Authority bought the Whitehaven Mobile Home Park with the intent to transfer ownership to residents in three years.

Yes, the land values in our mountain resort community are very high, complicating duplicating such a mobile home park deal in Eagle County that would ensure safe, affordable homes for residents. But these are two examples of how compassion, collaboration and generosity got it done. We have those assets in the Vail Valley, too.

Another illustration of the power of a nonprofit leading a private-public housing partnership solution is Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley and the groundbreaking this month of their Third Street development in Eagle.

Third Street will be a modular home neighborhood featuring 16 units. The innovative partnership includes the Eagle County School District, which donated its land; the town of Eagle partnered with Habitat to secure $1.1 million of infrastructure funding and $1.2 million for construction from State of Colorado grants; and the Eagle County Housing and Development Authority funded the gap between construction costs and affordability with a $3 million grant.

Habitat was also able to make this project all electric and Net Zero ready with a Holy Cross Energy partnership and individual donor contributions.

Are you a generous donor in the Vail Valley wishing you could help deliver more housing? Are you a well-positioned nonprofit wanting to contribute your time, treasure and talent to combatting the housing crisis and strengthening our great community? Are you a public entity seeking private and nonprofit partnerships to develop underutilized or vacant parcels?

There are trailer parks right here in Eagle County needing our help; there are private and public parcels of land awaiting the resources of Habitat for Humanity to carve out deed-restricted homeownership for our educators, hospitality workforce and emergency service providers; there are hard-working elected officials at the local and state levels taking on development projects that can include private and nonprofit participation, and passing legislation to support the creativity necessary in building incremental, new housing.

The opportunities are right in front of us. How will you end the excuses, take on the challenges, the complications — with compassion — and turn words into action?

Kristin Kenney Williams and Bobby Lipnick are members of the Eagle County Housing Task Force.

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