Romer: Let’s really talk about housing

The Colorado Health Foundation recently released its Pulse Poll, which outlines the top concerns facing Coloradans. To no one’s surprise, the top statewide issues include COVID-19, growth and affordable housing. When those polled were asked to rate their concern with a wider range of issues, the cost of housing, homelessness and health care costs emerge as major concerns — with housing concerns increasing 15% from the 2020 poll.

Ninety-six percent of people in the poll indicated that affordable housing was at least a somewhat serious problem (51% indicated it was extremely serious). This statewide research closely mirrors our local research, where 95% indicated housing is a major frustration or concern.

As noted in the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments and Colorado Association of Ski Towns workforce housing report, people move out of the region when they reach their early 30s and don’t stop leaving until their early 60s. Many attribute this partly to a lack of housing affordable to these community members. This costs our community of valued community members. The success of families, children in school, and the community is greatly improved when they have a safe, warm place to call home.

Our community needs to continue to find solutions to help find a way to get to “yes” on housing developments. This requires working with landowners, elected officials, developers, the general public, and others to help find solutions. This also requires our elected officials to have the courage to recognize that making progress on housing is going to upset neighbors — because every proposed development project has vocal opposition from neighbors.

So how do we move forward? There are a few ways for communities like ours to find ways to get to “yes” and to provide efficient entitlement processes: We must recognize that housing needs also fall in the middle, not just at the low end of the spectrum — and we must accept that it will take all kinds of projects, and all kinds of public-private partnerships and compromises, to solve our needs. This means accepting — and encouraging — density in appropriate infill developments.

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Local governments need to support housing at an elected official and staff level. Our communities need to be places where you can live, work, raise a family, start a business and retire. Preserving livability requires housing to stay affordable for as many as possible and rental vacancy rates under 1% and increased short-term rentals cause undue upward pressure on long-term rental rates. This is detrimental to our community goals to retain midcareer professionals. This means collaboratively working with the development community to ensure appropriate developments can move forward.

Further, innovative projects should be encouraged; this might include walkable communities asking for parking variances, micro-apartments, resident-occupied deed restrictions, or other yet-to-be-identified projects embracing national trends. Development needs to recognize and mitigate any environmental concerns through the planning process and should embrace sustainability practices.

A key to addressing the housing challenges in Eagle County is political will, exploring things such as fee waivers and density bonuses for deed-restricted local housing. Housing of all types has public benefits, including the increased tax base that supports special districts, such as fire, recreation, water and metro, which make our community work.

None of this is easy; from Vail to Gypsum, Eagle to Avon, Minturn to Edwards, we collectively support housing, but not in our immediate vicinity. The “build it, just not here” attitude is tiresome. It’s long past time to be serious about addressing our housing challenges, and that will take political will to do the right thing and enthusiastically approve projects that increase our local’s housing inventory.

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