Ski towns across the state are facing an out-of-control housing crisis that has driven families away and kept new families from moving to Colorado’s resort counties. It’s easy to blame vacation homes and AirBNBs for the housing crunch, but the real cause is much simpler: There just isn’t enough housing.
Why not? Because ski-town residents oppose every single proposal for new housing. Second homeowners and landlords have been a convenient scapegoat for ski-town communities that don’t want to confront a very uncomfortable reality — that their anti-development attitudes, colloquially called NIMBY, or Not In My Backyard, are the cause of the problem.
The housing developments that face the most opposition are the dense, multi-family developments that often are the most affordable housing for employees.
Ski-town residents will use every excuse in the book to oppose development; for proof, look no further than the letters to the editor published in the Vail Daily about the Booth Heights workforce housing development. Some letters expressed disingenuous concerns about environmental impact and the possibility that corporations might make money. Others just opposed the development because it was too big, or because it would be an “eyesore.”
Aspen recently banned all new home construction permits as part of its attempt to crack down on short-term rentals. The emergency ordinance imposing this moratorium said it was doing so “to preserve [Aspen’s] unique community character.”
Concerns about preserving community or neighborhood character are common among residents that enjoy the small-town vibes of places like Aspen. Historically, however, concerns about neighborhood character have been used as anti-housing development rhetoric by groups that sought to keep out the “wrong” kinds of people — racial groups, immigrants, or the working class.
The residents of Aspen might not have the same malicious intent as groups of the past, but the outcome remains the same. Aspen is preserving its “unique character” at the expense of the working class.
Small-town aesthetics, mountain views, and a desire to keep property values high have been prioritized over the housing security of local workers. The consequences of NIMBYism within ski-town communities have been growing for decades, culminating in the problems that plague them today.
The current labor shortage in ski towns is one of the problems created by NIMBYism. Some locals have complained about the staffing shortage on the mountains and tried to blame the companies that manage the mountains, failing to consider the role they may have played in creating the problem. Vail Resorts has its problems, but it’s hard to see them as the villain when they have been trying to proactively create employee housing, only to be stopped by the same people who are now complaining about the labor shortage.
By opposing affordable housing developments at every turn, communities have made it impossible for seasonal workers who sustain ski towns to live in them.
Ski-town NIMBYism hasn’t just been bad for workers; it’s been bad for the environment. Dense, multi-family developments have faced intense opposition, as locals frequently oppose these developments based on environmental concerns that are stunningly hypocritical and in direct conflict with the evidence.
Countless studies have found that dense, multi-family housing is one of the best types of housing for the climate and environment. Despite the evidence, ski-town residents only ever seem to organize against the climate-friendly multi-family housing, and never against low-density single-family housing developments.
Vail homeowners spent years opposing the Booth Heights proposal out of “concern” that a 61-unit development on 5.5 acres of land would hurt a herd of bighorn sheep. They display little concern, however, for the impact of their golf course taking up 130 acres of wilderness, or their neighborhood with 110 housing units spread across almost 40 acres.
NIMBYism has wreaked havoc on Colorado’s amazing ski towns and will only continue to do so if we don’t abandon these attitudes and embrace YIMBYism – Yes In My Backyard. Building dense housing developments is the only way to save our workers, economy, and environment.
Tobin Stone, from Gypsum, is a senior at Albright College in Pennsylvania, studying political science and public policy. Twitter: @tobinjstone
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