Leavitt: Same old housing crisis | VailDaily.com

Leavitt: Same old housing crisis

Howard Leavitt
Valley Voices

There’s been plenty of hand wringing by the towns, the county and Vail Resorts in the news lately about the lack of affordable housing and the ensuing employee shortage. Nothing new.

Howard Leavitt

About every four months or so, The Vail Daily breaks out the same two headlines, or some version thereof: “Employee shortage reaches critical levels” which is typically preceded or followed by “real estate sales set new records.”

The Vail Daily has been doing this doing like clockwork almost since Jim Pavelich printed the first one-page edition of the Daily in 1981. As the saying goes: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. That would certainly garner a diagnosis of said malady for the aforementioned entities.

The towns, especially, have had the power to address this issue over the decades, but have lacked the incentive and the will to take a firm stand. When you have at least 60% (a bit of Kentucky windage on my part) of the livelihoods in this valley directly related to high-end real estate development, along with the plethora of ancillary services in that food chain, all decisions are bound to be made through that prism.

A sure sign of this is borne out by a compelling number. Based upon my very unscientific estimate, there are well over 700 real estate agents in the valley, with approximately 45,000 people living between East Vail and Dostsero, perhaps half of which are adults.

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This would mean that one in every 32 adults in our valley could sell you a house. That’s a pretty astonishing number. It’s no wonder most people are loath to hinder the engine that drives everything, including our population growth. It has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Yes, there have been token efforts at requiring the inclusion of affordable housing in many projects, with the option of deferring that with a contribution to a “housing fund.” This is laughable, at best, in light of the critical nature of our dilemma. Typically, that contribution pales in comparison to the value of putting that same square footage into the whole ownership market. It’s a pretty easy decision for the developer and it simply kicks the can down the road, putting the onus back upon the towns.

Many town councils could have stemmed this tide by learning to say no. Of course, it didn’t help that over the years, many from within that same development community were on the councils, boards and commissions charged with guiding the process, thereby assuring a vested and agenda driven voice in these decisions.

Who can blame them for wanting to have a say in their own financial security, regardless of the affect on the front-line workers and the related long-term viability of the valley and its businesses.

And now, just when we think it can’t get any worse, the world is overwhelmed by the fallout from pandemic, and mountain towns throughout the West are inundated by a new wave of well-heeled remote workers driving the costs even higher, and at a blistering pace. Even more remote and distant locations are now priced out of reach to all but those arriving with an established financial stake.

Vail Resorts also had an epiphany, announcing an increase in its hourly rate. This, too, while a wonderful gesture, is a day late and many dollars short of trying to address a problem whose ship sailed about two decades ago.

I give great credit to all the people on the front lines and in the trenches that stepped up and kept the wheels turning over the years, as they covered the staffing shortages so well. However, we all know it’s not sustainable, as we see this problem affect all aspects of the mountain operation and workers can’t provide the product we all know they want to.

Like many, I moved here as a 21-year old with no plan to stay for the 46 years I have. Somewhere along the way I fell in love with this incredible mountain, the lifestyle, and the many, many kindred spirits from myriad backgrounds and places all here for the same reason. I met the love of my life, had a family, eventually bought a home and started a business. We were able to create a life from pretty much nothing because the relatively affordable nature of the valley, at the time, presented the opportunity to stay.

It absolutely breaks my heart that those days are now over. There will never be another generation of ski bums who will fall in love with this place and be able to stay, and carve out a life like I, and many of my friends, did.

Young people without means will come and go. They’ll stay a season, maybe two, and decide to leave, because it’s become too expensive and those in power don’t value them anymore. There are just too many people worshiping at the alter of high end real estate and, like any boom town, you’ve got to make hay while the sun shines, because those clouds on the horizon can only mean one thing and you can kick the can only so long.

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