Vail Daily letter: What we know about housing
October 6, 2016
Among the many issues on this year's crowded ballot is a local issue, 1A, asking Eagle County voters to approve a .003 cent sales tax to create an affordable housing fund.
Here's what we know. Eagle County has a significant housing problem. Based on multiple studies, we need almost 4,500 housing units today, and nearly 12,000 by 2025 to house our workforce. These are homes for our full-time, year-round workers and their families. We don't have enough housing stock, and what we have is too expensive for the average wage earner to afford. Rental units are full. More than half of homeowners and 46 percent of renters are "cost burdened," meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing. With other high costs of living in the mountains including health care, child care and transportation, and our relatively low wage scale (W-2 workers in Eagle County earn $200 less per week than the statewide average), it's hard to make a go of it here. In fact, between 2012 and 2016, the area median income level rose 4 percent, while the median home sales price in Eagle County rose 35 percent. Young people come here to live and work, but as they become established in their careers and start families, they leave for more affordable locales.
That loss of our workforce and families is an issue for our economy and the fabric of our communities. Businesses want to expand, but can't hire workers because there's no housing. We're taking about full-time, year-round jobs here. Living in a resort community has many benefits, recreational opportunities chief among them, but that same economy draws folks from around the world and our housing market responds to those international pressures. There's a disconnect between market prices and what residents can afford. When we lose our young families, we also lose volunteers in our schools and nonprofits, and the creativity and vibrancy that young adults provide.
A survey conducted by Magellan Strategies in May found 95 percent of residents in Eagle County think housing is a serious problem. We have top-notch builders and developers in Eagle County, but the cost of land here is prohibitive and it doesn't pencil out to build homes that working families can afford to buy. That's where the sales tax comes in. Paying 3 cents on every $10 purchase — not including food items — will generate approximately $5.4 million annually. Eagle County Housing and Development Authority will partner with large employers, the Forest Service, municipalities, special districts, and private businesses to do the following: One, build deed restricted housing for owners and renters; two, renovate and repurpose existing stock of developed real estate; three, bank land for future development opportunities; and, four, provide down payment assistance loans to help locals. The county has a long track record of creating smart housing projects including Lake Creek Village apartments, the Miller Ranch neighborhood, and the new Castle Peak Senior Care Community. The advisory board for the housing tax will function very similarly to ECO Transit, with representatives appointed by each tax-paying entity. The Roaring Fork will have a representative, as will Vail and all places in between. The tax generated in both the Roaring Fork and Eagle River Valleys will be spent proportionately in those areas. We'll measure success by the strength of our local businesses and by keeping tabs on those cost-burdened percentages.
The annual Eagle County Workforce Report showed the most distress among employers regarding housing since the survey began in 2007. In fact, 69 percent of respondents reported that the lack of affordable housing negatively affects their ability to hire employees. It's more important than ever to ensure we can attract and keep a strong and committed workforce. If we lose our young families, we lose a big part of what makes Eagle County so special.
We're inviting all of you to participate with us on this new venture, and to vote "yes" on 1A. For more information, go to http://www.VoteYeson1A.com.
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Jeanne McQueeney, Jill Ryan and Kathy Chandler-Henry
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