Safe parking pilot program gains momentum between Dave & Matt Vans, town of Eagle |

Safe parking pilot program gains momentum between Dave & Matt Vans, town of Eagle

Van life pilot program offers creative solution to county housing, workforce challenges

Ali Longwell
Vail Daily

EAGLE — As housing continues to be one of the main workforce challenges for local employers in recruiting and retaining employees, Eagle County businesses, governments and individuals are all seeking solutions for this seemingly insurmountable problem.

One local business, Dave & Matt Vans, has presented the possibility of van life as a solution — seeking a partnership with the town of Eagle to start a safe parking pilot program for van lifers.

“With a pretty minimal infrastructure burden to town — basically leveraging the existing infrastructure of what already exists here — the town could pretty much provide a small number of people access to the community, to what the town of Eagle offers from an employment perspective, from just the community in general,” said Dave Ramsay, co-founder and CEO of Dave & Matt Vans, at the Tuesday, Sept. 13 Eagle Town Council meeting.

Ramsay presented to the Eagle Town Council the company’s idea to a trial of a “community-focused permit program to allow for safe overnight parking in designated areas for unhoused residents locally.”

As proposed, the pilot program would not only seek to provide an alternative, affordable housing solution for Eagle employees and employers, but also create a safe and welcoming community for those who choose van life as a means to live and work in the town.

“There’s a pretty rapidly growing community of van lifers. These people are very ambitious, passionate and very intentional with their life,” Ramsay said. “We feel like they’ve been leveraging this reduced overhead flexibility that this van life offers people to pursue passions, pursue dreams that otherwise would have not been attainable, mostly due to cost of living.”

Ramsay himself began living the van life as a way to achieve his goal of starting an investment fund, something he said was not possible due to the high cost of living in New York, where he lived at the time.

“I would not have been able to start that fund — I’ve since started three other businesses, including Dave & Matt Vans — all because of van life. It just is such an affordable way for me to live,” he said. “And I’m just one of probably thousands of examples of this right now … People use it for all sorts of different things nowadays: getting out of debt, starting businesses, freelancing, quality of life, etc.”

Dave & Matt Vans was later founded in 2019 in Gypsum as a way to bring this van lifestyle to more people. In the past four years, Ramsay reported to the council that the company has grown to sell 400 completed vans and to have 35 employees — about 14 of which live in vans themselves. This insider experience into van life would serve the pilot program well, Ramsay said.

“We have a wealth of knowledge for how to pull this off in a pretty seamless way, and we want to be very integral in making sure that it does go smoothly,” he said.  

Van life, Ramsay presented, offers a lower cost of living and a more attainable option for employees and employers alike.

“Using the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of affordable housing, where no more than 30% of income is spent on housing, employees need to make $64,000 per year to afford median rent in the Vail Valley. For many small businesses, such a salary is difficult or not possible. Van housing saves employees an estimated $19,764 a year in cost of living,” the report read.

Further, according to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs’ housing affordability data, 67% of Eagle County households are considered “extremely rent burdened,” meaning they are spending over 50% or more of their monthly income on rent.

What the program might look like

As currently proposed, the program would seek to issue 12 permits (at a cost of $250 a month) to local employees in the town of Eagle. These permits would be for designated parking areas designated by the town.

One of the points Ramsay made was that the program would be extremely local, providing the town “another tool in the toolbox of improving quality of life and bringing in economic vitality here — across the government, economy, small businesses and the community itself.”

“Our hope is that they provide back to the community themselves as well. That’s a huge part of what we’re trying to accomplish with this pilot program, is to make sure that the people who are part of this are truly integrated into the town of Eagle, that they are contributing to the community in a lot of different ways,” he said.

All participants would have to meet a “strict set of requirements focused on safety,” according to a presentation on the pilot program. The proposal also contemplates that there would be a “van life captain” to work with the town on the enforcement of rules and regulations. Plus, Dave & Matt Vans would serve as a “liaison” between the town and program participants, with Ramsay even offering to help vet the first round of applicants.

With these parameters, Ramsay said the “goal of the proposal was giving the town of Eagle an alternative strategy for improving quality of life and vitality within the community here.”

While the idea of van life as well as safe parking as a solution to the housing crisis is new in Eagle County, there are some examples of similar programs across Colorado. This includes the Unsheltered Summit County program — which served as inspiration for Ramsay and co-founder Matt Felser on this Eagle pilot program — the Colorado Safe Parking Initiative and the BETCH Program in Salida.

The first two were formed in an effort to provide safe, legal parking spaces for people who don’t have permanent housing and are living in their cars. The Salida program is similar, creating a campground-like space with electricity, WiFi, water, restrooms and more for individuals living in their vehicles.

Full steam ahead

Overall, members of the Eagle Town Council expressed interest in the idea and a desire to move forward in figuring out more of the “nitty gritty” details, as one council member put it. 

The first of which, the town’s Community Development Director Chad Phillips said should likely be to look at what land use and zoning changes the town might need to make for the program to be possible.

“This is a land use, and it’s not in our existing code,” Phillips said. “I would say that would be a good next step, is to work with us and at least look at the land use side and the zoning side.”

With a “laundry list of stuff we have to iron out,” Ramsay said that the company was targeting to launch the program for next summer and committed to helping with the details.

“You have all of our resources available to work through those,” Ramsay said. “Because we’ve lived the lifestyle in a lot of unique ways and in a lot of different ways, we’ve experienced a lot of the potential pitfalls, downfalls and all of that. There’s going to be some and we’re going to work through those together. We are happy to support in any way we can to ensure this does go smoothly.”

Even with these details, council members expressed encouragement and excitement about the prospect of the pilot.  

“I appreciate that it’s solutions-oriented, I think a lot of the messaging that we get as a council on the topic of housing is really identified in problems,” said Council member Geoff Grimmer. “And what I thought the deck did an excellent job of is, over and over, saying, ‘I think we have a solution here.’ And, even though it’s maybe not at scale yet, to me it’s really exciting.”

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