Vail Daily letter: ‘Yes’ on 1A
Don’t you just love election season? I say that not with my normal enthusiasm that I usually have this time of year as this year’s issues, initiatives, candidates and tone have been nothing short of overwhelming. It seems our local community and our country are at a crossroads of sorts. All of us as community members and voters are being asked to step up, educate ourselves on the pros and cons of the issues on the ballot and make a decision to move forward or keep kicking the can down the road. Ballot Issue 1A, affordable workforce housing, is one of the issues at the forefront of our local voting docket. The cost of housing to own and rent is not affordable for the majority of our full-time population, this everyone agrees on. How to remedy this fact is where viewpoints start to widely diverge.
Quick summary: Ballot 1A is asking for approval for a sales tax which equals $0.03 on every $10 purchase (exempting groceries). It is proposing a multi-pronged strategy to address Eagle County affordable housing issues by
• Providing and improving the quality, availability and affordability of housing in Eagle County.
• Providing down payment assistance loans for home ownership.
• Acquiring land for future housing units affordable to the workforce.
• Investing in private/public partnerships for the provision of workforce and affordable housing.
• Related housing programs and services.
• Creation of a Housing Advisory Board board from each municipality similar to ECO Transit, or a blend with citizens such as open space.
It is estimated to raise up to $5.4 million per year to help address local housing issues and will expire after 20 years (information from Eagle County Clerk and Recorder). Other mountain communities have already started, laid the groundwork and are well on their way to being able to address the housing issues in their communities with concrete, effective solutions. Communities such as Aspen, Boulder, Mountain Village, Summit County and Telluride had the foresight to start collecting for affordable housing needs several years ago through multiple tax strategies. Eagle County’s program is in its infancy. The need to grow a program, much like the one in Summit County, is crucial for our community and economy to continue to thrive. Recognizing gaps in affordable housing, public transportation, and cost of living is the first step in moving towards solutions.
Eagle County is a predominantly tourism-based economy. We are dependent on our workforce and need to ensure that we are attracting quality employees that not only want to live here for a season but that want to extend their stay and grow their career. Being able to attract and retain quality employees is paramount to our county’s sustainability and success. There have been letters in the paper and viewpoints that say this “employee problem” is a local business problem and that businesses should be paying their employees higher wages so they can afford to find housing. But what is not being realized is that there really aren’t any units available for purchase or rent in the affordable price range. At the VCBA we receive calls daily this time of year from those who have secured jobs in the area but who are desperately searching for housing. They have furiously scoured the online classifieds, Craig’s List, social media outlets and have come up short. They call us as a last resort; it is frustrating and disheartening to hear their stories of having always dreamed of moving to the Vail Valley only now to be turned away and forced to move somewhere else because of lack of housing. Higher wages will not solve this particular problem. But business owners have already taken it upon themselves to try and make life easier for their employees through providing ski pass incentives, local bus passes so they can get to work without having a car, insurance/wellness bonuses to cover some of those costs. Some businesses have even taken it upon themselves to secure housing for their employees. But not every business has the luxury of being able to offer these incentives. It is not just a business problem — it is a community problem.
Local governments have been working more and more together to see if there are overlapping resources they can pool. The Vail Local Housing Authority has released its “Vail Housing 2027 Plan,” which was just adopted by the Vail Town Council. They meet every fourth Tuesday of the month and their meetings are open to the public. If you want to learn more of their plan, you can go online at http://www.vailgov.com or go sit in on a meeting.
Ballot 1A is a good start, and right now we need to start somewhere. Having money to create a goal, a means and a method will go a long way to helping Eagle County solve some of its housing issues. The old adage, which has been used on many occasions this election season, “much is expected of those whom much is given to” makes sense, but how can we expect our county to address these issues if we don’t give them the chance?
The Vail Chamber and Business Association urges all in our community to educate themselves on Ballot 1A and our local housing issues by visiting http://www.voteyeson1A.com, http://www.eaglecounty.us and http://www.vailgov.com.
Executive director, Vail Chamber and Business Association.