Who We Are:
Vail Valley Partnership is the regional chamber of commerce, with over 860 members throughout Eagle County who collectively represent over 80% of the local workforce. We are dedicated to the economic vitality of the Vail Valley. We support local businesses. We unite key stakeholders. We lead collaborative efforts throughout the community. As such our board of governors – which includes residents & business operators throughout Eagle County – has identified workforce housing as a top priority.
Background and Situation Analysis:
Eagle County’s cost of living is higher than many other places. To no one’s surprise, housing is the key element pushing Eagle County’s overall cost of living above the U.S. average. The Council for Community and Economic Research produces an annual County Cost of Living Index (CCLI) that serves as a measure of relative cost of living between different locations across the county.
Eagle County’s cost of living indexes at 176.30 against a nationwide average of 100. In the CCLI, a number above 100 is more expensive than the U.S. average, and a number below 100 is less expensive than the U.S. average. Housing costs in Eagle County, however, are indexed at 340, while most other consumer goods and services in the county fall slightly above or below the U.S. average, making housing the primary driver elevating local living expenses.
Eagle County faces a gap in the availability of ownership and rental housing that is affordable for local residents. Residents are burdened by high housing payments. Employees are forced to commute long distances. According to the annual workforce survey, employers believe that the availability of workforce housing is a critical or major problem in Eagle County. The Eagle County Housing Assessment shows a shortfall of 4,500 units to meet current needs.
Eagle County voters have historically not supported tax increases – whether for schools, housing, transit, early childhood, etc. Vail Valley Partnership seeks to support workforce housing projects and workforce housing solutions.
Why Do We Need Workforce Housing?
As noted in the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments and Colorado Association of Ski Town workforce housing report, people move out of the region when they reach their early 30’s and don’t stop leaving until their early 60’s. We are losing people in their peak earning years. Many attribute this, in part, to a lack of housing affordable to these employees. Losing employees costs local businesses a lot of money. Shelter is a basic need. The success of families, children in school, and employees is greatly improved when they have a safe, warm place to call home.
- Many jobs are in lower paying industries (Accommodations and Food Service, Arts, Entertainment, Recreation, Retail), although these industries in Eagle County pay well above the state average
- More jobs available across industry sector than labor force to fill them
- A high percentage of second, non-resident occupied, homes, which drives up the cost of housing
- Proliferation of Short-Term Rentals (Airbnb; VRBO; Home Away)
- Short Term Rentals reduces inventory of workforce rental long-term rental housing
- Workforce wants to live near their jobs
Numerous research papers and studies from Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, Eagle County Housing Authority, and Community Builders outline the need for housing in Eagle County; additional research from Vail Valley Partnership (workforce studies, business retention study) shows housing as the main obstacle to business growth and expansion.
Workforce and affordable housing has long been an issue in Eagle County. The difference today is the demographic data clearly shows an increased need for more affordable housing options for the current and future Eagle County workforce. Addressing our affordable housing issue is essential to the continued success and growth of our business community across industry sectors.
The affordability gap numbers in Eagle County point to the increased need for more affordable housing options for the current and future Eagle County workforce. The Eagle County Housing Needs Assessment explores various policy options and provides a comprehensive overview of our housing situation.
Currently and anecdotally, units that have been long-term workforce rentals are being removed from that market as they are converted into short-term rentals. This has the potential to grow both catch-up and keep-up needs for workforce housing.
The lack of available housing creates pressures on the business community in terms of employee attraction and retention, and in the employee experience working and living in Eagle County, with up to 95% of those reporting indicating workforce housing is a frustration.
We want to ensure our community can remain competitive to keep locals local and to support our businesses. We encourage local governments and boards to approve appropriate in-fill projects and to be open-minded and flexible to grant appropriate variances to local code to facilitate the development of these projects. In doing so, we believe the increased inventory of resident occupied inventory will cause compression of rental rates due to natural economic pressures of supply and demand.
Our position on projects is based on meeting the needs of the business community through resident occupied and workforce units; we do not offer opinions on perceived project viability or non-business-community related issues.
We need to continue to find business-friendly solutions to help find a way to “yes”. This requires working with landowners, elected officials, developers, the general public, and others to help find a solution.
- Communities such as ours need to find ways to get to yes and to provide efficient entitlement processes;
- Housing needs also fall in the middle, not just at the low end of the spectrum;
- It will take all kinds of projects, and all kinds of public-private partnerships and compromises, to solve our needs;
- Local governments need to support housing at an elected official and staff level as our communities need to be places where you can live, work, raise a family, start a business and retire;
- Preserving livability requires housing to stay affordable for as many as possible;
- Rental vacancy rates under 1% and increased short-term rentals cause undue upward pressure on long-term rental rates and is detrimental to the business community related to employee retention and attraction;
- Innovative projects should be encouraged – this might include walkable communities asking for parking variances, micro-apartments, or other yet to be identified projects embracing national trends;
- Development needs to recognize and mitigate any environmental concerns through the planning process, and should embrace sustainability practices;
- Housing of all types has public benefits including the increased tax base that supports special districts (fire, recreation, water, metro, etc);
- A key to addressing the housing challenges in Eagle County is political will, exploring things such as fee waivers and density bonuses for workforce housing.
Projects seeking Vail Valley Partnership support should:
- Demonstrate commitment to the future through incorporating resident occupied workforce housing units/employee housing units at or above the minimum required by local code and that result in a net increase in workforce housing stock (i.e., more housing created than jobs created);
- Utilize resident occupancy requirements in their deed restrictions;
- We prefer resident occupancy restrictions to income restrictions, partly because economic conditions of residents and families change over time. We believe that income restrictions can have the unintended consequence when families have job opportunities that increase their income and they no longer fall within income deed restrictions parameters
- However, income restrictions are also a tangible way to ensure affordability and allow developers to pursue specific loan funding.
- Actively engage neighboring communities before and during the process through various stages of approval (planning & zoning, design & review, elected boards, etc.);
- Be located in appropriate in-fill locations throughout the county, and/or in areas designated and zoned for housing development;
- Be cognizant of regional transit and transportation impacts and mitigate these impacts through their development plans.