Eagle County candidates touch on housing tax
EAGLE COUNTY — The four candidates this fall for two Eagle County commissioner seats recently sent emailed replies to a series of questions. Their answers will be published throughout the next few days.
The first question is: If voters tax themselves to provide workforce housing, then how would you plan to use their $5.4 million each year to get the greatest return on that money? And would that tax money ever be used to provide seasonal housing for the ski company and other major employers?
A: I would use the money to buy land to develop workforce housing around the county.
I would use the money to supplement the down-payment assistance program.
I would use the money to build small rental unit clusters of one-, two- and three-bedroom neighborhoods in the county, owned by the county.
B: I would look at public-private partnerships with Vail Resorts and other major employers to develop some dormitory-type housing that could be shared on a seasonal basis. I have identified several locations that would be close to the ski areas and educational facilities for offseason and summer programs.
The county is fully prepared to implement 1A immediately in order to begin addressing today’s need of 4,466 additional housing units. Several opportunities have been identified through a hot-off-the-presses strategic plan, developed over the past year and in partnership with the towns.
If 1A passes, then a multi-jurisdictional housing committee — to include the towns, other jurisdictions and citizens — will apply criteria within the bounds of the ballot language, prioritize opportunities and make recommendations to the county commissioners. An intergovernmental agreement between municipalities and the county will specify a plan to use the funds countywide, and within the core of communities where transportation, jobs, schools and commerce are located.
These valuable tax dollars will be leveraged through public-private partnerships with employers and developers, and through the use of smart financing tools to ensure they are stretched as far as possible.
In a recent poll of voters, 95 percent said that finding an affordable place to live is a problem. In a Vail Valley Partnership survey, 69 percent of responding employers say the lack of affordable housing is negatively affecting their ability to hire employees. Ballot issue 1A is a response to the dire consequences facing our entire workforce and the very fabric of our community. The intent and priority of 1A is to house full-time, year-round employees.
The current board of county commissioners, through partnerships with private businesses, other governments and nonprofits, has taken the lead in addressing this crucial issue in our community. The number of businesses that say lack of housing is a detriment to hiring and retaining workers is at an all-time high. (2016 Eagle County Workforce Survey). According to the Urban Land Institute (October 2016), solutions to the growing chasm between housing costs and income require collaboration across jurisdictional lines. This is just what we’ve done with projects such as The Valley Home Store (666 deed restricted for-sale homes and 397 affordable rental units throughout the Eagle River Valley), the TABOR Grand renovation (tax credit financing for affordable rentals), the Castle Peak Senior Life and Rehab Center (64 units opening this month in Eagle), and the RealAmerica affordable housing project in Basalt.
We and our predecessors have planned and built housing; with a revenue stream and partnerships with businesses and towns, we can start to make a dent in the 4,500 units required to address our housing shortage, and we can start on Jan. 1. This is why I support ballot issue 1A.
I believe we must make it possible for people who work here to thrive here. Young residents move away from Eagle County in their mid-30s just as they are excelling in their careers and starting families (State Demographer, 2016). Housing is part of our infrastructure, and it operates differently in a resort community than in other places. It’s the county’s job, working together with the private side, to make sure that infrastructure supports our families and our economy.
Our housing strategic plan targets full-time, year-round housing for working families. Major employers, such as Vail Resorts, provide their own seasonal workforce housing.
First of all, let me be clear: I don’t believe it’s necessary to raise taxes to provide affordable housing. I have experience and expertise on this topic. As a matter of fact, I am the only commissioner candidate who has actually planned and built affordable housing. If the voters choose to approve the tax, I will examine countywide options for affordable-housing solutions. Those will include for-sale vacant land, off-market vacant land, development projects that have been submitted that are languishing in the approval process, and projects that have been disregarded due to unreasonable constraints put on the owners.
Lastly, I would look at sensible opportunities for increased density via renovation projects. After gathering that comprehensive inventory list, I would then prioritize the list and determine feasible financing options, private partnership opportunities and a time frame.
I have already identified parcels of land that are close in proximity to our resorts that are available for rental housing. Each of those parcels have their own challenges in regard to development. A feasibility analysis addressing access, infrastructure, traffic and zoning for each parcel will need to be done.
In order to build rental housing and to have an immediate impact, private businesses will need to buy in. I have had preliminary discussions with private business and community leaders regarding this private-public partnering concept and all have indicated their willingness to participate.
I believe that regardless of the results of the election, Eagle County needs to take the lead role in formulating solutions to address this ongoing issue.
Government needs to get out of the way, and land use regulations need to be revised immediately to encourage, incentivize, streamline and welcome a variety of affordable housing solutions. A new vision and mentality will need to be embraced and established by the County’s top leadership in order adequately address and solve this important issue.
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