By Jamie Leary

(CBS4)– With 2021’s Election Day right around the corner, towns across Colorado’s high country have made it clear: affordable housing is a top priority.

“‘Where am I going to live? I just got kicked out of my house’ — I constantly hear this for a myriad of reasons, but that’s where we’re at. We’re in a crisis, we really are in a crisis,” said Dave Chapin, Mayor of the Town of Vail.

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Chapin says the tourists have flooded Vail while the employees are leaving. A ballot measure this November would increase the sales tax rate by .5% (personal groceries excluded), bringing in an estimated $4.3 million annually to the town.

“This is something that can greatly help us with programs we already have and help us with programs we have in the future that will develop as this situation evolves,” he said.

While many towns have measures on the ballot this year to address the crisis, the leaders that CBS4 spoke with agree that the issues are too large for any one measure to solve.

“It isn’t a Town of Telluride problem, it’s a regional problem and the more that neighboring regions and communities can work together, that’s truly the only solution because no one thing is going to solve this,” said DeLanie Young, Mayor of Telluride.

In Telluride, the issues on the ballot to address affordable housing have created a major rift among community members.

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“The nastiness of this year’s election is palpable,” said Young.

One of the measures, Question 300, came about as a citizen-initiated ordinance. It would put a cap on the short-term rental licenses at 400 licenses with some specific exceptions. One exception would be if the property is your primary residence and a room within it or the property itself is rented only a couple of weeks a year. Other units exempt are those that act more as a hotel.

Question 300 would require an annual lottery to see who would get a short-term rental license

“Which is concerning for people who have this as an income source or even a business,” said Young.

As a reaction to Question 300, a group of citizens approached the town council to put an alternative measure on the ballot. The council ended up calling a special meeting to get the language approved for a ballot measure, which has been dubbed 2D.

Measure 2D would establish a cap at the number of licenses in effect on Election Day if it was to pass. There is a debate about how many licenses currently exist within the Town of Telluride but the official record claims there are 822 active licenses. Others in town believe that number is closer to 770, it’s all part of the ongoing rift.

“These two measures have unfortunately created an immense hostile divide in our community, even more than already existed. It has opened up the conversation, finally with the larger community about the housing issue which I am grateful for, most of us are grateful for,” said Young.

Telluride is not alone in its frustration on how to solve the issue. CBS4 met with the manager of the town of Avon, Eric Heil, who says he’s watching community members leave faster than ever before.

“Hiring has been very challenging, and I believe it’s beginning to get a little cutthroat among businesses,” said Heil.

Heil said the town has lost 10% to 15% of its workforce since the pandemic and housing prices have gone up nearly 25% in less than two years.

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“So, the town of Avon has been pursuing a number of different housing initiatives. One of them is a .2% tax on short-term rentals. We’re expecting that might generate up to $1.5 million per year and those are funds that we can use to support Avon’s Mi Casa program, where we help people with purchasing properties through buying a deed restriction on those properties to keep them locally owned, as well as using those funds to potentially build more housing projects,” he said.

The Mayor of Vail used a term for the issue that many in the high country have become familiar with: the Zoom Boom.

“Many people have chosen to move to the mountains, taking up properties that once were long-term rentals. That’s their right, that’s their property right but many of these people are working from home and don’t contribute to the local workforce. Particularly our front-line service workforce,” said Chapin.

Chapin said the ballot measure in Vail is one of many “tools in the toolbox” to allow for more spending when it comes to workforce housing.

“This is starting to affect our service levels and from government, it starts on a municipal level. The people planting flowers, the people plowing the streets the people you know, maintaining all of our facilities here. If we don’t have them, our level of service is going to drop, which means the level of service to our guests is going to drop and we are in the hospitality business,” he said.

Jamie Leary