Letter: East Vail housing discrimination

This is what systemic inequality and housing discrimination looks like.

The town of Vail is gearing up to leverage the full force of local government to systemically exclude and discriminate against a marginalized demographic — and members of the Town Council are going to use millions of dollars of taxpayer money to do it.

On May 3, four Vail Town Council members are expected to vote to condemn 23 acres of private property owned by Vail Resorts in order to prevent the construction of affordable residential employee housing in East Vail. It would be disingenuous to say that this action is necessary to protect East Vail’s bighorn sheep herd. The sheep don’t consult plat maps, and they make no distinction between tourists, homeowners and employees. The town of Vail makes those clean distinctions, and the crisp clean lines they form are a textbook example of housing inequality.

Is this decision discriminatory?

Discrimination is defined as the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of income, race, age or sex.

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The underlying prejudice is the assumption that the human disturbance perpetrated by workforce housing residents demands extraordinary environmental intervention — while the same existing human disturbance perpetrated by current residents, visitors and students does not warrant the same analysis or action. The actions of individuals in both groups are the same. The impacts of those individuals’ actions are the same. Yet the treatment of individuals differs based on the class they are associated with.

That is discrimination.

The vehicle of discrimination in this case is exclusionary zoning that keeps affordable housing out of neighborhoods through land-use and building code requirements. It’s a legal practice that has been used for decades to keep lower-income people out of wealthy and middle-class neighborhoods. It harms lower-income people by denying them access to education and employment opportunities — and environmental protections — typically found in wealthier neighborhoods.

The most proximate and primary beneficiaries of the East Vail Affordable Housing Development will be predominately composed of individuals that have one or more of the characteristics that constitute a marginalized minority in the Vail Valley:

  • Individuals earning less than 100% of the area median income
  • Between 18-40 years old
  • Hourly employees
  • Persons of color
  • Immigrant, temporary or seasonal workers
  • Employees of Vail Resorts

Condemnation, also called eminent domain or simply “a taking,” is the right of a government to seize private property for public use. A municipality typically condemns a piece of property because it is unsafe or hazardous. Denying access to housing to “undesirable” populations by defining their neighborhood as hazardous is textbook redlining, a historical tool used by government and industry to systemically oppress and exclude certain groups. An easy exercise in understanding the motivations for and impacts of redlining can be seen by browsing through the original redlining maps and taking note of the reasons an area was determined to be hazardous. Redlined areas were almost universally comprised of “wage earners” and “laborers.”

Robyn Smith


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