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March 2010 | Volume 9 Issue 2   


Housing in Hawaii: Making Kauhale Affordable
Working AND Living in a Colorado Resort Town
Converting Stalled Developments Into Affordable Housing in New York City

Working AND Living in a Colorado Resort Town

As a premier ski resort community, Vail, Colorado, relies on both a seasonal and a year-round workforce to staff the town's plentiful lodgings and amenities. A resort town of this caliber is easily described as an expensive place to live, with housing prices well above the reach of low- and moderate-income workers. A 2008 snapshot of Vail shows only 30 percent of Vail employees living within town limits and 34 percent living in towns located anywhere from 8 to 14 miles away. An employee's distance from home to work is important to employers, as increased commuting distance can lead to high employee stress and turnover rates. Correspondingly, what is important and beneficial to the town's employers is important to the town's governing body, given their commitment to drawing in tourists and new residents. This article will discuss Vail's efforts to maintain and increase the availability of affordable housing in the hope of aiding workforce commitment, reliability, and town cohesion.

Vail's Employee Housing Strategic Plan

A street view in Vail, Colorado.In 2007, Vail adopted its 20/20 Strategic Action Plan that set forth the community’s vision for future growth and development. As part of the action plan, Vail identified a growing need for employee housing and established a goal of providing price-capped, deed-restricted housing within town limits for at least 30 percent of the workforce. The town council reasons that living outside of town leads to increased parking, transit, economic, and environmental burdens on the resort community.

To address this goal, the town adopted its Employee Housing Strategic Plan (EHSP) in the fall of 2008. The following action steps were outlined in the EHSP:

  • Continually evaluate and modify existing tools, such as commercial linkage and inclusionary zoning programs to keep up with changing housing needs. The commercial linkage program requires commercial development to provide housing for 20 percent of new employees; this requirement can be met by onsite or offsite housing, a "fee-in-lieu" payment, or a combination of these options. Similarly, the town's inclusionary zoning policy requires 10 percent of net new square feet of residential development to be set aside as deed-restricted employee housing. A couple of months prior to the adoption of the EHSP, the town adopted regulations to strengthen these two programs by requiring no less than half of the employee housing to be provided onsite.
  • Establish a deed-restriction exchange program to increase the number and quality of units that the town can designate for employee housing. The EHSP states that an estimated 123 deed-restricted housing units created under the town's density bonus provisions since 1982 have failed to provide employee housing and are not currently fulfilling their purpose. The exchange program will permit owners of these attached rental units to apply for removal of the deed restrictions. In exchange, the owner has to convey a larger market-rate unit to the town of Vail to then be deed-restricted as a price-capped employee housing unit. This larger market-rate unit must be located within town limits.
  • Provide additional density bonuses and other incentives to encourage development of workforce housing units above the minimum requirement.
  • Identify and establish funding sources for employee housing initiatives.

Working directly from the suggestion outlined in the EHSP, the town of Vail established an Employee Housing Unit Deed Restriction Exchange Program in January 2009.


According to a 2007 survey by the Urban Land Institute, Colorado's "mainstream" workforce, with incomes of less than $50,000, report significant likelihood of moving closer to work if more affordable housing was available to them. Vail is taking a serious look at the state of affordable housing, at a time when high growth in employment opportunities and workforce needs are projected over the next decade (the town council approved expansion projects that are predicted to create 2,000 new jobs, a 40 percent increase from 2008's existing jobs). Just as the resort town needs a reliable and committed workforce, the employees need conveniently located affordable housing options, as the town's success depends on the entire Vail community.


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