Howard: It’s time for more affordable housing
For nearly 25 years, headlines for editorials, columns and letters to the editor have denounced the lack of affordable housing in the Vail Valley, and the roots of this problem go back even further. Today, it’s not just a problem, it is a crisis that demands urgency and action. Simply put, the workers who make Vail the incredible place we love have nowhere to live.
I’ve long been an advocate for more workforce housing in this community, and my peers and I at Vail Resorts know that it is critical for us to proceed with these investments. There is no single solution to our housing crisis, but we are proud to be making a big step in delivering on a commitment to our employees and this community, while upholding our values as environmental stewards. I am glad to share that we are proceeding with affordable housing on the land we own in East Vail this summer. This investment of approximately $17 million will provide affordable housing to 165 employees.
In addition to this major step here in Eagle County, our company also announced three other affordable employee housing initiatives at Park City Mountain, Whistler Blackcomb and Okemo Mountain Resort. Together, these projects are a part of a commitment made by Vail Resorts CEO Kirsten Lynch to aggressively pursue affordable housing for our employees. I am proud of these investments into affordable housing, in addition to our company’s recently announced $175 million incremental annual investment into employee wages, seasonal front-line leadership development and HR support.
We have listened to our employees’ concerns and our community’s concerns, and there is a desire for our company to do more to help solve our housing crisis. I know that this decision to move forward will be met with concern and opposition from some in the community. But it is critical to remember that this project went through an intensive planning and environmental review process over three years.
- The Town Council approved the affordable housing zoning in October 2017.
- The Planning Commission approved the project in August 2019 and that approval was affirmed by Town Council in October 2019.
- The District Court upheld the approval in October 2020.
Through the planning and approval process, Vail Resorts developed extensive wildlife protections with input from environmental consultants and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. This includes our company’s decision to rezone the property, dedicating over 17 acres to natural area preservation, and providing $100,000 to the Town to fund long overdue habitat improvement efforts in the bighorn sheep winter range. Every new development brings environmental concerns, and we took seriously those raised in regards to this project. In addition to doing our part to mitigate environmental impacts, we must also balance those concerns with the urgent need for affordable housing.
We, as a community, need to be careful not to give the green light on high-end expensive homes, but then block affordable housing in the same area.
I know that this project alone won’t solve the entire affordable housing crisis in the town of Vail, but that doesn’t mean we should give up this approved, viable site and push off affordable housing to the next project. Our employees and community deserve more affordable housing options, and our company is committed to seeing that come to fruition in East Vail. Now is certainly not the time to slow down — it’s time to change the headlines we have read for decades and swiftly move forward on solving this crisis.
Beth Howard is vice president and chief operating officer for Vail Mountain.