Vail Daily column: Details remain unclear
The following is an excerpt from a report by the Vail Homeowners Association board of directors. The association keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside of the Vail community. The electronic version with links to supporting documents is available at http://www.vailhomeowners.com.
The devil is always in the details, and many details are yet to be known about this plan. For example, will there be a maximum limit or some other cap on the amount that can be spent for an individual deed restriction? Will there be a means test or some other qualifying requirement for eligibility? What kind of property can qualify for the program? Will the new units at Chamonix be eligible?
Has a similar program been conducted in any other community? If so, then what were the results? Was any expert advice solicited or received during the design of the plan? Were any studies conducted to determine the demand for or acceptability of such a program or whether potential buyers will be willing to encumber their resale potential for an average price of just $50,000? Has the bulk of the middle-class population already relocated down valley where more suburban family amenities exist? Do they want to move back to Vail?
What happens down the road? Will owners be able to sub-lease to non-residents or non-working residents? What will happen on resale of the property? With no caps on appreciation, market forces will determine the value of the property. If history is any indication (and it usually is), then prices will continue to rise notwithstanding the deed-restriction encumbrance, most probably placing the property out of range for a middle-income buyer. What happens when the owner cannot find a full-time employee who can afford the property? Will there be hardship relief and, if so, then under what circumstances and terms? Can the deed restrictions be modified or discharged through bankruptcy?
How does the Vail Local Housing Authority plan to address and prevent fraud in the system? What will be the controls and accountability? How will the Vail Local Housing Authority prevent up-bidding of sale prices to obtain higher deed restriction prices? Will this promote a housing bubble?
Why is increased densities part of this program? What kinds of increases are being considered? How will they impact neighborhoods? Will the Vail Local Housing Authority undertake condemnation to achieve its goals? What government intervention is being considered that requires a Nexus study? And what are the plans for the fee in lieu program?
Is this the best use of $50 million in capital expenditures over the next 10 years, with $15.5 million coming directly from Vail’s capital budget in the next four years? Does the commitment of at least $50 million during the next 10 years compromise other needed capital improvements? Does this plan necessarily preclude other down-valley solutions? Would it be wise to have a community-wide discussion before committing to this plan? Did anyone even consider that the community might not want to commit this level of massive resources to this project?
Who is going to oversee the program? Will there be any checks on the authority of the Vail Local Housing Authority? How will responsible and sound actions be enforced?
All of these and perhaps other questions need to be answered, so that the community is fully informed about this plan and can adequately discuss and consider whether this is the correct path to follow.
Equally important to any comprehensive housing plan are the needs of the seasonal workforce. The new housing plan turns a blind eye to seasonal workforce housing, yet it is the seasonal workforce that is the backbone of Vail’s tourism economy.
Businesses have responded to this issue in a variety of ways. Some have pro-actively provided housing for their work force. Some have partially done so. Others have done little or nothing, leaving it to the town and downvalley governments to solve the problem. An argument can be made that it is not the responsibility of government to subsidized business by providing housing; businesses should pay a living wage which will enable their workers to afford to live in the community.
The reality is that, as a resort community, Vail is dependent on a seasonal workforce. If the workforce continues to deteriorate, as it appears to be doing now, then visitor experiences will suffer. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see where that leads. A sustainable community fundamentally needs an adequate workforce, especially when the community’s main economic base is tourism.
The question remains whether Vail is going to have a comprehensive housing plan that includes relief for seasonal workers. Or, is Vail going to take the position that housing is a problem for the individual businesses to solve, either through increased wages or the provision of housing by the business? Put another way, is it wise to spend all of Vail’s housing program funds next year for middle-income housing, leaving nothing for workforce housing?
The Vail Homeowners Association doesn’t advocate any particular solution to this problem; just that it needs to be addressed in a meaningful way. And given the absence of any site within the Town, it seems obvious that it will require some kind of downvalley solution.
The Vail Homeowners Association board is Gail Ellis, president; Judith Berkowitz, secretary; Rob Ford, treasurer; and directors Jamie Duke, John Gorsuch, John Lohre, Andres Nevares, Trygve Myhren, Larry Stewart and Doug Tansill.