Howard: We need housing solutions of all types
Recently, I was asked what the solution to our current housing crisis is. It’s a loaded question without a simple answer, but I am optimistic that, together, we can create change and increase housing opportunities.
However, it’s a long process — and one without a magic bullet. So, to those who have asked me what the solution is; here goes. And I thank you for reading and seeking me out to continue the conversation.
Housing is complicated. As a community we need to find solutions for the full housing continuum — options from homeless services to home ownership, and everything in between. Young people who first move to Eagle County have vastly different housing needs than families who have lived here for years and want to continue to make the Eagle River Valley home. One group isn’t more imperative than another; we need solutions across the continuum.
Providing housing isn’t as simple as building: We can’t build our way out of the situation we are in — however, building is an important component. And, obvious as it may be, land is a limited, and valuable, resource here. As a community, we need to build with intention; set land use policies that encourage a mix of dwelling units to maximize density where it makes sense. There’s a clear need to increase the number and types of units available for rent and for purchase.
Increasing housing opportunities requires an investment from the community, as well as a mix of thoughtful planning, implementing new programs and adding to existing programs including deed restrictions on pre-existing and new construction, down payment assistance and regulations. It’s important to recognize that these programs are important investments in our community infrastructure.
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We are moving in the right direction: There are innovative local programs focused on buying deed restrictions on existing housing stock to make them permanently attainable for local buyers. Eagle County increased its down-payment assistance allocation. Avon recently approved $900,000 for its Mi Casa program to assist with the purchase of a residence in Avon. Vail’s inDeed program has been recognized nationally as an out-of-the-box solution to deed restrict existing housing stock.
Land use policy
What else can we do? Examine our land-use policies and processes to maximize results. Can commercial areas coincide with residential? Can the entitlement process be streamlined to get to yes or no faster?
This would save private developers willing to consider building affordable housing time and money. Can regulations be modified, allowing for less parking? Can increased density in certain areas be supported? Can ADUs be approved and brought to code? We’ve been working to advocate for updated policies that will encourage smart growth.
This work is a heavy lift, it’s expensive, time consuming and deeply personal. We must explore creative solutions and new partnerships.
Eagle County Schools is in the business of educating our youth. However, to do so, it needs a dedicated workforce. Habitat Vail Valley is in the business of building homes. We are a nonprofit housing developer, able to build affordably as we don’t make a profit. We’ve teamed to provide housing for Eagle County Schools employees through land donated by the district at Grace Avenue in Gypsum and more recently, donated land on Third Street in Eagle.
In total, these projects will house 24 district employees. These types of partnerships encourage longevity of the workforce and build community.
Advocacy and political leadership
Finally, we need to give our elected leaders reasons to say, “yes, in my backyard.” Our local and state leaders are listening now.
It’s imperative we share long-term, responsible solutions with them. We’re excited that Rep. Dylan Roberts is on the State Legislative Housing Task Force working on ways to allocate $400 million in federal funds for housing initiatives. As the Western Slope’s only representative, he will be an important voice for the unique housing struggles in Colorado’s mountain communities and advocate for dollars to be spent here, now.
There are solutions that can foster continuity for our workforce and stability for our community but the work cannot be done in a vacuum; it requires the collective efforts of many of us.
I believe to enhance the fabric of our community, we need to work together and think creatively. I enjoy hearing from each of you, stimulating conversation that can lead to new ideas, and ultimately new homes.
Elyse Howard is the director of development for Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley, where she also oversees advocacy efforts to help increase housing stability for families in Eagle County. She works to build partnerships and create community conversation. Learn more at HabitatVailValley.org.