As local housing disappears, so does the attraction
Written by Adam Broderick
Wednesday, 22 April 2015
Any other hard-working locals having trouble finding affordable housing? I just counted almost 40 “employment”’ ads in last week’s classified section, and 13 “for rent” ads. There are three houses for sale on my block alone. Who will take those jobs if housing here is so expensive? And why can’t I rent the house across the street? No one else has been there in months. Three to four years ago you could rent a room long-term in Crested Butte for less than $500 per month, or a two-bedroom place for under $1,100. Now you can’t find what the majority of us here would call “affordable housing.” Shoot, not even in Mt. Crested Butte or Riverbend. There has to be a solution. Locals who contribute a great deal to the overall function of our town should be able to live in our town. Blue collars and seasoned, hard-working residents shouldn’t have to relocate to Crested Butte South or Gunnison just so more out-of-towners can visit for a few days or a week at a time. That’s not why we moved here or why we work so hard to preserve this place. Plus, it is we—the blue collars—who help make this town so attractive and memorable for out-of-towners. Sure, visitors most likely come for the skiing, mountain biking, musical performances, art festivals and all that jazz. And those should be some of our target markets. But when visitors leave, they tell their friends about the town. They even start before they leave. We’ve all heard it: “I can’t believe how nice everyone here is!” It’s the cozy and comfortable small-town feel and the overwhelming hospitality that gets them. It’s the people. The waitrons and clerks who were all so friendly to new faces, and the animated locals they passed on Elk Ave. or who gave them friendly guidance on the (free) town shuttle. “You’ll want to eat at ____ for lunch.” “We’ll be at ___ if you’d like to join us.”
So how about returning the favors? We don’t necessarily want more money. Well, that would be awesome, but it’s not mandatory (another reason we moved here). There has to be a solution. I agree with Dan Escalante’s idea in the April 10 issue of the Crested Butte News to increase VRBO fees collected by the town and put them toward the town’s affordable housing fund. “A sliding scale that charges more for renters who don’t occupy the home that is rented,” Escalante suggested. I don’t know that it’s the proper action to take, but it sounds like the right direction. One, it would create balance among homeowners so no one benefits more than another from renting short term. Two, the Town Council will need more money for affordable housing in coming years and it would be us, the blue collars who make the town clock tick, who would live there. I spoke to a sweet lady named Jerralyn who works in the county’s DMV office and she said that in Myrtle Beach, S.C. they enforce what’s called a “luxury tax.” Residents pay the lowest tax rates for primary homes, higher rates for second homes, and even more for vacation rentals and businesses. I think it would be worth exploring ideas like this for our town. When I first moved here in 2008 I saw a really cool old poster somewhere around the base of the resort that featured a group of skiers and boarders hanging on the slopes, drinking beer and having a great time. All it said was, “This is not Vail.” I don’t imagine I’ll ever forget that. It sure summed up what Crested Butte was all about, at least in my eyes. But if you search for long-term rentals online you’ll find that rates here are getting close to resembling rates in towns like Breckenridge and Eagle-Vail. That’s not very appealing to the kind of people who actually want to call a place like Crested Butte “home.” There’s something called a comfort-living ratio, a.k.a. comfort score index. It takes the cost of living (housing, food, transportation, taxes, etc.) and compares all that to income. In 2010, I would tell my friends in San Diego who questioned why I moved so far into the hills that even though I made less income, my comfort-living ratio was equal to or better than theirs. But I’m not so sure that’s the case anymore.
This month, my roommate and I received three weeks’ notice that we have to vacate our condo. The owner will not renew our lease because she wants to sell. Anybody know of a pet-friendly, two-bedroom rental in town for less than $1,400 per month? I doubt it. When I ask friends and neighbors for ideas, they all say the same thing: “I keep hearing of people in your situation but I don’t know of any rentals. I’ll keep an eye out.” My roommate is a highly experienced chef and he works hard for a local restaurant. He also gladly spends his hard-earned money to support local businesses by frequently eating out and, as usually only those with experience in the service industry do, he tips 30 percent on average but never less than 20 percent, no matter the experience. Myself, I write for the Crested Butte News and will be hardscaping part-time this summer so I can spend more time outdoors in this wonderful valley. I also provide web content and editing services for a handful of small, local businesses. I love being able to walk or bike to work, knowing I’m limiting my carbon footprint. We both attend local events and purchase raffle tickets, even when we could care less about prizes. If you ever see either of us out and about, we’re probably smiling at a passerby or chatting it up with other friendly folks. I’d like to think we both contribute to a hefty number of reasons people visit this town. Last Sunday I saw an ad pop up on Craigslist for a claustrophobic, two-bedroom (if you want to call the tiny second room a bedroom), one bathroom apartment for $1,100. I called the agent immediately and my roommate and I met her at the property ten minutes later. Upon our arrival there were already three other interested parties inside. Another two parties came and left in the 15 minutes we were there.
For a moment I even glared at someone—someone I would normally consider a buddy—as if he were my enemy on the battlefield. In short, it seems everyone and their mom is looking for a place to live in town.
I’m getting nervous that we’ll have to relocate to Gunnison (even Crested Butte South is expensive nowadays) in order to afford rent. That will mean at least a half-hour commute in each direction, every day, burning through lots of gasoline and dirty emissions in my lil’ old Subaru. It will mean spending more on food in Gunnison instead of in Crested Butte. It will mean not being around as often to smile at visitors or give out free local advice. My dog will either have to tag along every step of the way, which isn’t always cool with the boss, or hang at home by himself for nine-hour-plus stints since I’ll be too far away to let him out on lunch break. And it will mean I’ll have to stop claiming Crested Butte residency, so I won’t talk this place up quite as much as I have in the past, when I felt more comfortable in my home. Want people to book vacations here and bring more money to the valley? Then sell the mountain biking. Sell the skiing. Sell the arts. Sell it all. Just don’t sell out. Don’t rid this valley of the very reason people continue to visit. Sure, they’ll come for a year or two because the terrain is epic and the views from just about anywhere here are spectacular. But when the trails stop feeling new, the music has been heard and residents begin to resemble those in Vail, Aspen and Park City because all the passionate, down-to-earth, fun-loving (blue collar) locals had to leave when the money came in, the money will stop coming in. This town is too far off the map to be convenient for the big spenders. Visitors take the time to make the trek here because of the way they feel while they’re here. It’s the people who make up this town, and why visitors continue to bring their families, their friends, and their money year after year. There has got to be a solution. Is charging fees to those who don’t rent out their empty homes that solution? Maybe. It’s definitely an idea to get the ball rolling. I hope to hear more about this topic discussed around town and at future council meetings.