Like many resort communities across the country, the Mad River Valley has a workforce housing shortage that has worsened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mad River Valley Housing Coalition member (and Warren Select Board member) Bob Ackland said affordable workforce housing in The Valley is “non-existent.” Ackland said there is a 1% vacancy rate of housing in The Valley, which leaves very few rental options for workers. As many jobs in the area are in the service industry and typically offer low wages, he said many people who work here don’t live here, which creates a disconnect in the community.
The housing coalition’s proposal for a housing trust that the Warren Select Board discussed last week is one step to address this issue, proposing a 1-cent tax increase and an annual fee on short-term rentals like Airbnb and VRBO to go toward housing costs for lower-income residents. The proposal is designed to help renters and first-time home buyers with costs such as down payments, security deposits and first- and last-month’s rent, as well as help landlords update uninhabitable rental units through loans. He said, “Affordable housing has to be understood from a community point of view. We are lacking the infrastructure to build dense housing at an affordable price.”
Ackland cited short-term rentals as a viable option for providing more beds for The Valley’s tourist base. He said, “It’s a complex issue, there are downsides [to short-term rentals], but also upsides. There really needs to be a community discussion as to how do we minimize the downsides and maximize the upsides.” One upside he cited was, “We have a lot of homes that are unoccupied on a year-round basis that have ability [for short-term rentals]. Fifty-five percent of homes owned in The Valley are second homes and not primary residences of people who live here.” That’s a resource that can be tapped into to fund more affordable housing for workers and lower-income residents. Ackland said affordable housing would have no impact on short-term rentals.
He said the Mad River Valley Housing Coalition “believe(s) short-term rentals have a general obligation to make contribution(s) to affordable housing,” as they take away housing opportunities for local residents. Ackland noted the potential use of a short-term rental fee to cover Waitsfield, Fayston and Warren hiring a firm to manage short-term rentals, from compliance to registration to billing to collections. He also noted the option for contributions to the Mad River Valley housing trust to be earmarked for affordable housing.
He said, the “reality is that we’re very dependent on short-term [rentals] when you look at the number of skier visits and overnight stays we have, a great deal of those come from short-term rentals. We really don’t want to lose that. We want to keep that, but want to minimize downsides -- noise, parties, garbage. And I think we have to make sure the community understands the vital importance that short-term rentals bring to our tourist-based economy. If you look at that bed-base, it’s nowhere near what we need to support ourselves and nowhere near what our competitors have. They have three times the commercial bed-bases in Stowe and Killington.”
Ackland called the proposal for a housing trust that the Warren Select Board recently discussed a start to addressing the urgent housing needs in The Valley, but added that it “isn’t a quick fix” and is “going to be a long effort.”