Peterson: A spotlight on housing issues in the Vail Valley | VailDaily.com

Peterson: A spotlight on housing issues in the Vail Valley

My wife and I bought our first home in June. We’d scrimped and saved for years for a down payment and then found a real estate broker who knew exactly what we wanted. She managed to get us in the door for the first showing of a townhome in Eagle Ranch that was going to be listed the next day. After one walkthrough, we offered the seller full price on the spot.

Undoubtedly, in this valley, we’re the lucky ones: Lucky that I had an employer who gave us temporary housing for six months so we could get market-savvy. Lucky that both sets of parents floated us some extra money to get the whole deal done. Lucky that we even found a place we could afford — and that our offer was the winner.

We are thankful every single day. But there are way too many people in the Vail Valley like us, with good jobs and a passion for this community, who can’t solve the housing riddle.  

Today, the Vail Daily is launching an in-depth reporting project that we’ve decided to call “Home Economics” — a five-day series that focuses on housing issues throughout the valley.

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Pam Boyd, the reporter who had the idea for the project, also came up with the name, which is pretty self-explanatory: The valley’s affordable housing crunch is all about supply and demand.

There just aren’t enough places for working-class folks to live in this valley, which makes it hard for employers to attract and retain talented workers. That creates numerous other problems — notably the downvalley and upvalley shuffle for workers commuting to their jobs, which creates parking and traffic issues.

And that’s not even calculating how much all that commuting is contributing to global climate change.

The hollowing-out of pricey resort towns like Vail also raises questions about community character. Is a town really a town if more than two-thirds of its housing is owned by people who don’t live there year-round? What does it say about a place when it outsources its workforce from neighboring communities?

This is not a new problem, and this series — spoiler alert — doesn’t offer any grand solution to an ongoing, growing problem.

Clark Anderson, the executive director of Glenwood Springs-based Community Builders, spells it out clearly in the series’ opening story: “The real bummer,” he says, “is there is no silver bullet to solve the housing issue.”

It’s sad but true. There is no next Miller Ranch in the pipeline, nor is there an exquisite public transit solution that would keep all those cars off the Interstate and local roads. 

So why even dive into a problem that seems so intractable? Why now? Well, for one, the biggest local story in this valley over the last year has been the battle over Booth Heights, the controversial workforce housing project in East Vail. That fight has pitted Vail residents and second-home owners, as well as wildlife advocates from near and far, against the town, the developer and Vail Resorts and has attracted statewide attention. Whichever side you’re on, it’s undeniable that this fight wouldn’t be happening if not for a dire workforce housing crisis.

And that fight is emblematic of other proposed developments that have drawn their own share of criticism. The question remains: Given the market forces in this valley, which developments are compounding the problem and which ones are providing relief?

That problem isn’t monochromatic. The need for employers to find seasonal workforce housing solutions isn’t the same thing as the shortage of affordable housing for year-round locals, especially those who make too much to qualify for housing assistance programs and too little to purchase homes on the free market.

The series will explore how affordable housing has been an issue since Vail’s inception and how the problem has grown over the years. It will also take a look at employers who foresaw a growing problem early and got ahead of the curve. We’ll also look at what local towns are doing to help solve the issue, and we’ll delve into just what you can get for $500,000 on the open market in Eagle County.

As the series unfolds over this week, we want you to engage with us. You can send letters to the editor to letters@vaildaily.com or reach out to me directly at npeterson@vaildaily.com to join the conversation.


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