Vail Daily column: Vail’s housing plan: what it means
Editor’s note: 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.vail homeowners.com.
Due to the lack of available land and the high cost of construction, affordable housing, both in the town of Vail and throughout Eagle County, has been a vexing problem; it has long been a top priority for the town. Throughout the years, Vail has responded by acquiring more than 700 deed-restricted housing units. Soon to be added are 32 units at Chamonix and the recently approved Roost Lodge redevelopment, which will have 96 more deed-restricted apartments. That will bring the total Vail deed-restricted units to over 10 percent of current town housing.
Earlier this year, with virtually no public input, Vail launched an ambitious, 10-year, $50 million plan with the goal of acquiring 1,000 more deed-restricted housing units (an average investment of $50,000 per unit). At $50 million, it is one of the largest public works programs in Vail’s history, and the plan acknowledges that sum may have to grow in future years. To give some idea of the scale of this plan, the entire Vail Housing Program Fund (funded with Housing in Lieu Fees) today totals only $3 million, and the town’s total capital budget for 2016 was only about $32 million (which included $15 million that was taken from capital reserves). If successful, another 1,000 deed-restricted units would result in over 20 percent of all Vail housing being deed-restricted, and if the assumption that these will be middle class families is correct, more than 20 percent of Vail’s population would fall into that category.
The plan has raised a host of questions: ranging from the size of this investment, to its viability given its dependency on tax increases, the failure to address down-valley alternatives and the desirability of this scale of social engineering. First and foremost, is the huge cost of this plan. While Vail is in excellent economic shape, is the commitment of $50 million, to just housing, over the next 10 years the best use of Vail’s capital, and would such a commitment compromise other needed capital improvements?
Funding for the plan, dependent on a major tax increase, also seems in jeopardy given the overwhelming defeat last year of Eagle County’s proposed sales tax increase to fund affordable housing. It ignores that housing is a regional problem that will not be solved on a community-by-community, “only-in-Vail” basis. And, this plan would amount to the largest ever effort at social engineering in the town’s history.
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Also ignored is workforce, seasonal-worker housing. It appears that, at least so far, the town has taken the position that it is not its responsibility to subsidize business by providing housing; businesses should pay a living wage which will enable their workers to afford to live in the community. But the reality is, when a community’s main economic base is tourism, it is dependent on a seasonal workforce. If the workforce continues to deteriorate, as it appears to be doing now, visitor experiences will suffer. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see where that leads.
The Vail Homeowners Association has long urged that the availability of affordable housing is one of Vail’s most pressing problems; a sustainable community requires affordable housing for all its citizens. There is, therefore, a clear need for a comprehensive plan for both middle class and workforce housing. Crafting such a plan should be a public process, with full transparency and public input. The solutions must be comprehensive, realistic, respectful of existing property rights and within the financial ability of Vail to sustain. Those solutions should also recognize that Vail no longer has the necessary land for “only-in-Vail” solutions, and down-valley alternatives, where multiple sites and opportunities could be available, must be considered. Indeed, 77 percent of respondents, in the most recent town survey, see this as necessary.
What you can do: If these are matters that concern you, get informed and become involved. Government responds to the public; silence only enables others with different agendas to act in your absence. If you are not already a member, join the Vail Homeowners Association. Together, we will continue to shine a spotlight on these issues that concern everyone.
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.