Vail Daily letter: Neighbors make housing progress | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily letter: Neighbors make housing progress

Housing is where jobs go to sleep at night, and affordable housing is where essential jobs go to sleep at night; this rings true today in Eagle County and throughout Colorado (credit to Allan Kingston for the paraphrased line).

Much like other rural resort communities in the Rocky Mountain region, our primary problem in Eagle County is affordable workforce housing. Apartment vacancy rates are near zero and the affordability gap on free-market homes exceeds $234,000 for a standard family at 100 percent of the area median income.

As housing prices increase far faster than area wages, our resort brands create an international demand for limited housing stock, and high land prices make free-market development of affordable units financially unviable to developers.

What others have figured out is that it takes an "all of the above" solution to adequately address the workforce housing problem. Other mountain resort communities around the country have taken the steps needed to help their business communities, and to help keep a working professional class in their towns. In our case, voters will have the option to approve a 3/10 cent sales tax (three cents on every $10 spent, exempting grocery sales) — which is forecast to cost the average Eagle County resident $42-50 annually and would raise $5.4 million annually. This is a small price to pay for community sustainability.

Now is our opportunity to keep our locals local, to invest in the future of our businesses, and to ensure jobs have somewhere to sleep at night. It is our responsibility to our current first responders, our teachers, nurses, hospitality workers, entrepreneurs, business owners, prospective business owners, and anyone else who hopes to call this place home. Make no mistake, whatever side wins or loses this issue, it is won or lost in perpetuity.

I'm typically not in favor of doing things because those around you are doing things. That said, we can certainly learn from our neighbors in Pitkin, Summit County, and Teton County (Jackson Hole), all of who have developed affordable workforce housing programs to address this community need.

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The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority was founded in 1975, charged with creating a program to provide affordable housing for year-round residents and seasonal workers who were unable to afford to buy at market rates in their resort community. The Aspen/Pitkin employee housing program exists to help people who work within Pitkin County, who would not otherwise have the opportunity to be a part of their community.

Summit County, just over Vail Pass, has a sales tax and in short time has created 337 new workforce housing units through new construction, 13 housing units through other mechanisms, and have acquired 140 acres of land to develop future workforce housing communities.

Teton County has a similar housing program, for similar reasons: median home prices are approaching the $1 million mark. Enter the Teton County Housing Authority, which exists to manage local market and deed-restricted housing occupied by people working locally who would otherwise commute from outside the community. Impressively, the community has set a goal to ensure a variety of workforce housing opportunities exist so that at least 65 percent of those employed locally also live locally.

Unlike these similar resort communities, Eagle County has no such funding program in place to support our business community and our local workforce. However, much like Pitkin, Summit, and Teton Counties, we have reached the point that our housing market has gotten so difficult for the workforce that our businesses suffer, as evidenced by 95 percent recognition of housing as a problem in a recent phone survey, and 69 percent of businesses identifying housing as a major issue in the annual Vail Valley Partnership workforce study.

What others have recognized is that affordable workforce housing is not a handout and it is not entitlement. It is win-win for business and community, and our jobs need somewhere to sleep at night. Without workers, business can't provide the services people are wanting, and without successful businesses our local municipalities and special districts can't survive and communities can't thrive.

Unlike our neighbors, we have not addressed the issue in a meaningful and scalable manner. Keeping locals local is an essential step to maintaining a sense of community. Summit, Pitkin, Teton and others are actively addressing the problem. Ballots are mailed soon, and we will have an opportunity to do the same here in Eagle County.

Chris Romer

President and CEO, Vail Valley Partnership

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