Stone: Don’t condemn Vail’s future by killing workforce housing
The East Vail workforce housing development checked all the right boxes for a town facing an unprecedented housing shortage. It would have been affordable housing, reserved exclusively for workers. It would have been located near public transportation, and within a few miles of the mountain.
Despite all of this, the Vail Town Council voted to begin the process of condemning the property at its April 19 meeting. The message sent to the working class is clear: They are not welcome.
The absurd reason given for the condemnation is to protect a bighorn sheep habitat. But this was never about sheep. The same people who have spent the past four years fighting this development reside in homes that were also constructed on top of the bighorn sheep’s habitat area. Vail Resorts had even promised to fund habitat improvements for the bighorn sheep population and to only build on 5 acres of the 23 acre development, but that didn’t matter to the homeowners. This was always about preserving property values and keeping the working class out of East Vail.
There’s clear hypocrisy from homeowners that have opposed this development. Not a single person called for environmental reviews of the multi-million dollar single family homes that were built only a few hundred yards away from the proposed East Vail development.
East Vail residents can’t claim that it’s because they live in older homes — some of these homes were built as recently as last year. Mayor Kim Langmaid has argued that this doesn’t matter because the lots were platted in 1972 — but this doesn’t change the fact that construction, which has a clear impact on wildlife — was occurring while East Vail residents actively fought the East Vail development.
It was only when Vail Resorts announced plans to build affordable housing for its workers when Vail Town Council and the East Vail residents began to seek out reasons to oppose the development. They have attempted to hide their hatred for workers using alleged environmentalism as a shield. At the end of the day, however, their true colors are revealed by the simple fact that they have only fought against housing developments intended for workers.
This animosity runs so deep that after the previous Vail Town Council had already approved the development, the East Vail NIMBYs ran a campaign for the Town Council in 2019 entirely focused on the development. Now, these Town Council members are using a backdoor process to overturn the decision of the previous Town Council.
They attempt to give their effort legitimacy by claiming their election to the council demonstrates that the community supports this — but this argument falls apart when you consider that the three top vote-getters in the 2021 election are the same three council members that voted against beginning the condemnation process.
If the majority of the Vail Town Council votes to condemn the East Vail development on May 3, its members won’t just be condemning an affordable housing development. They will be condemning the future of Vail.
Vail’s housing crisis is the result of decades of bad policy and NIMBYism. In the last year, the crisis has accelerated, and some members of the Vail Town Council don’t seem to understand the scale or magnitude of the problem — or they just don’t care.
Last November, the typical home value in Eagle County crossed $1 million for the first time. In the four months since, they’ve risen another 11.2 percent. Workers are already being priced out, and if we don’t start building housing immediately, the situation will only get worse.
The homeowners and politicians opposed to this development have made a point of proposing alternative locations for housing, such as Ever Vail. They view development as an either-or situation, but the reality is that Vail needs to build more dense, multi-family housing everywhere.
Eagle County has a shortage of 4,500 housing units, according to a Vail Valley Partnership analyis from 2019, and the East Vail development is only 61 units. Vail Resorts and the town of Vail should absolutely pursue the Ever Vail development – not as an alternative to the East Vail development, but rather, in addition to it.
The East Vail development won’t solve all of Vail’s housing woes — but it could offer at least some of the workers that sustain our local economy with secure housing as the crisis worsens. But because of the majority of the Vail Town Council’s choice, those workers may not get the housing security they so desperately need. And because of the Vail Town Council’s vote, they may be forced to leave Eagle County.
A ski town without its workers cannot survive. But the Vail Town Council is forcing out the very same workers that Vail depends on. During the next ski season, there will be lift lines that are not open, and restaurants that are short-staffed. Our reputation as a world-class ski resort and destination is going to suffer.
Maybe members of the Vail Town Council will realize their mistake when this happens, but by then it will be too late, because when they finally go to build more housing, they’ll realize that all the construction workers have left too.
Tobin Stone, from Gypsum, is a senior at Albright College in Pennsylvania studying political science and public policy. Find him on Twitter at @tobinjstone.