So far, The Valley Reporter has been to all five of the Economic Vitality workshops hosted by the Mad River Valley Planning District (MRVPD) and Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce and one issue has come up at every single one of them – affordable housing.

There isn’t enough of it in The Valley.

The region boasts an eclectic mix of stately farmhouses and janky condominiums, but almost every rental option has something in common: It’s all expensive. Due to the presence of two major ski resorts, those looking to lease in The Valley have to compete with vacationers and second-home owners with cash to spare. People trying to make a living full time get priced out of the market by families who only come up on the weekends to ski.

We know firsthand it’s really frustrating trying to find a decently priced one-bedroom apartment in the area while there’s whole houses that sit empty 300 out of 365 days a year.

It’s not good for us, but it’s also bad for the economy.

At all of the workshops we attended, company owners said perhaps their biggest challenge is finding and keeping qualified employees, because so few of them can afford to live here. How is any business going to thrive in that environment? Most need smart, capable, young people who are willing to start at the bottom and work hard to advance.

We know some very smart, very capable, young people who have a lot to offer The Valley in terms of skills and services, but when it came time to sign a lease they ended up in Granville or Rochester or another – less expensive – town even farther away.

The MRVPD confirmed this trend in an economic study it completed in 2014 that noted an “out-migration” of residents between 20 and 30 years old from The Valley. According to the study, 26 percent of households in Waitsfield, Warren and Fayston are paying more than $2,000 a month for housing, as opposed to 14 percent of households statewide.

We’re not quite sure how to create more affordable housing options in The Valley, but we’re optimistic that the Economic Vitality workshops are providing a forum for business owners to share their concerns and come up with possible solutions. A community of tiny houses? That could be cool.