Scott Bayens: COVID, the holidays, housing and what really matters
For those of you who follow my monthly missives, and occasionally read between the lines, you may have noticed a trend toward a bit of cognitive dissonance and some internal conflict on my part. Over the last few months I have efforted to express my gratitude, for myself, my fellow brokers and really anyone who has unexpectedly benefited from this unprecedented and historic record year; this ride to the top after a full stop.
At the same time I have done my best to acknowledge the continuing economic crisis as millions remain out of work, the virus surges out of control and many local and service-oriented businesses in our mountain towns are teetering on the brink. The number of tourists who might visit this ski season is also uncertain; a critical driver of revenue and livelihood for so many in our community. COVID fatigue is a thing now and the new normal continues to take its toll as schools go distant again and restrictions for bars, restaurants and gyms creep back in.
Meanwhile, the divide in our country runs deeper than ever now, with the recent elections providing no relief for the weary. COVID has also exacerbated and accelerated the ever-widening gap between the haves and the have nots. Stimulus money is nearly spent, another package is mired in deadlock; a Presidential transition delayed. We hear encouraging news about a vaccine, but when it might be available for distribution is a whole other challenge.
Yet here we are this Thanksgiving —2020 — gathering or distancing or “Zooming” — to celebrate. For those with bounty and good fortune, as well as those who are down on their luck or going without, the spirit of the holiday should be the same; to reflect on what’s really important and what we are truly grateful for. We are taught not to exalt in material things, but rather give thanks for the intangibles — love, family, friends, our health, a roof, a bed, a hot meal.
But for some this holiday season, there’s simply not enough of those basic needs to go around, thankful or not. There’s a looming catastrophe for those who are struggling which is continuing to unfold outside our back door. Many here in the valley with money and resources have the potential to make a huge impact. And make no mistake, I’m also sounding a clarion call to my colleagues in real estate and related services who have so much to give now.
We’ve seen lots of headlines lately about the need for food, steady lines at area food banks and the need for volunteers. And now local experts are predicting a surge in the number of local evictions. Why? Because so many in our community are out of work or furloughed. The Aspen Valley Community Foundation estimates there are about 17,000 people from Aspen to Parachute without adequate income support. Safeguards put in place last spring to protect against kicking people out have now expired as have additional unemployment benefits.
And if you’re an area landlord, guess what? You’re at risk too. Late rents are inconvenient but losing your tenant is a serious problem when no one’s lined up behind them to sign a new lease. And not to be flip, but isn’t it interesting and ironic that the Pandemic has similar impacts on those who own and those who rent; lessors and lessees, haves and have nots. There’s justice as well as opportunity rooted in that fact.
The solution is action! This holiday season give to your local food bank, yes. But also get behind the concept of local rent relief. Start at home if you can with your own tenants or providing a boost to someone you might know who is under water. There are also a number of local organizations and NGOs that are spearheading programs to get money to those who need assistance. And more programs aimed at the real estate community are coming on-line as well, including one I am working to create with local businesses and community leaders.
So together or separately, through the good, bad and the ugly of this strange year, we mark the occasion and give thanks. But no question there’s more rough road ahead; at least when we consider everyone in our community. The remedy might just be getting out of our own heads, stop thinking about just ourselves and our own so-called first world problems. There’s great need outside our collective bubbles. Together we have the power to influence and be ready for what harbingers may come.
Happy Thanksgiving. Be safe and stay healthy!
Scott Bayens (GRI, ABR, CNE) is a Realtor® with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty. Learn more about him and view current listings at http://www.aspendreamhome.com.
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