Lindstrom: Housing crisis? How you can help
Even if you haven’t been paying attention, you know the local housing shortage is reaching a crisis stage. This has been building for years and decades, but is now reaching all segments of our valley.
Longtime locals are struggling to find housing to buy or rent, often leaving the area in frustration. Local businesses are continually short-staffed and both Vail Health and the school district are significantly short of professionals as well as front-line staff.
So, what can you do to help? Well, several things — mostly without leaving your couch.
First, you can stay informed. Aside from following articles in the Vail Daily and other local media, one way to increase your understanding of housing issues is to read some of the studies and articles compiled on the town of Vail’s Housing Department webpage. The recent Mountain Migration report summarizes current trends and Eagle County has a housing needs assessment. The 2019 Economic Value & Community Benefits of Resident Housing Investment study documents the effectiveness of investing in housing, and also reports that building and maintaining resident housing near employment centers is one of the greenest things we can do.
You can support the efforts of our elected officials who are working on housing issues. At the national level, Rep. Joe Neguse and Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper have proposed and supported initiatives to fund housing efforts in Colorado. Dylan Roberts, our state representative, is a member of the working group tasked with distributing $400 million to local housing programs and he is also working with various agencies and departments to free up state land for potential new housing development in our area. Rep. Roberts will be running to represent us in the Colorado Senate next year; he certainly deserves our support and votes to continue these efforts.
At the local level, our Eagle County Commissioners, Kathy Chandler-Henry, Jeanne McQueeney and Matt Scherr, have stepped up to fund local housing initiatives. Town councils in Avon, Minturn, Eagle and Gypsum are working on housing programs. The current and past several Vail Town Councils have strongly supported funding and policies to further housing mitigation efforts. These elected officials deserve our support, and when election time rolls around, you can vote for candidates who not only talk the talk but have a record of making the hard decisions to advance housing initiatives.
Next, you can keep an open mind when new resident housing is proposed in your area. Everyone says they support resident housing, but only if it is the perfect project in the perfect location. If we are to make any progress, we can’t just keep saying no. We must look at projects and locations that represent the best available solutions within and adjacent to our established residential and commercial areas.
Of course, not every proposal makes sense, but we must take some chances and make some trade-offs to help solve our housing issues. To borrow a phrase from the political world, we can’t let “perfect” be the enemy of “good.” That proposed project may be the future home of your children or grandchildren — or you when you first arrived 20 or 40 years ago.
Finally, if you are a Vail resident, you can support Ballot Issue 2A, which proposes a one-half percent sales tax increase to be used for resident housing programs. Groceries are exempt, so no increased cost for tonight’s dinner. But, yes, it will apply to that bottle of wine to go with dinner — $0.10 on a $20 bottle. Ten cents!
It’s still a lower sales tax rate than most of our resort community peers. Funds generated will be used for existing housing programs and new opportunities as they arise. Vail doesn’t have much available land, but funds can be used to partner with private sector landowners and with other municipalities and governmental agencies.
Over the past five years a collaborative effort by the Vail Town Council, town staff and the Vail Local Housing Authority has proven to be both efficient and effective in deploying funds for housing. Vail’s InDEED program and other housing initiatives have been nationally recognized and widely emulated by other resort communities. The housing funds are ultimately controlled by accountable elected officials.
So, there are some ways you can help with our housing issues. Most importantly, you can exercise your right to vote, and if you are a Vail citizen, you can vote in favor of Ballot Issue 2A.
Steve Lindstrom is a West Vail resident, small business owner and serves on the Vail Local Housing Authority.