Opinion | Kim McGahey: Don’t endeavor to make Summit County ordinary
Conservative Common Sense
There is a lot of chatter around Summit County lately about a real or imagined affordable workforce housing crisis and possible solutions. Frisco Mayor Hunter Mortensen and County Commissioner Tamara Pogue would have you believe this is a crisis of epic proportions that threatens to shut down Summit County and can only be resolved by an immediate government solution. But as President Ronald Reagan said, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
But before we digress into further emotional discussion, let’s take a dose of reality. A historic fact is that Summit County has had a workforce housing affordability issue since the first ski lift was installed in 1961 and they needed workers to run it. This is nothing new to our community. Even back then lift operators found it expensive to live here, and that’s the normal status quo for resort towns.
Resort communities were never intended to be the neighborhoods of the worker bees. Trying to make our resort towns more plebeian by outlawing short-term rentals will only take the attraction, and the resort investors that keep our ship afloat, out of our towns.
Resort lifestyle and value is predicated on having something exclusive to offer that can’t be found in everyday America: an incredible mountain view, a pristine national forest, a Continental Divide, a historic main street or a world-class ski area. Travelers, vacationers and investors don’t find those natural and man-made treasures in Des Moines, Iowa, or Birmingham, Alabama, and they intentionally seek them out in exclusive resort areas like Summit County.
Exclusivity is the operative descriptor when it comes to making something extraordinary, and consequently unattainable, to most people. What we have created in Summit County since 1961 is an exclusive, one-of-a-kind combination of natural beauty and man-made recreational amenities that is unparalleled anywhere in the real world. And, frankly, it’s not within reach for everyone.
Sure, there are other ski areas and other resort towns, but Summit County is the perennial top producer for obvious reasons. That’s why we are not dying on the vine like many Midwestern main streets or suburban sprawls. That’s why people are fleeing major metropolitan areas in droves for the sheer enjoyment of everything we have to offer, which can’t be found anywhere else. Thus, our scarcity creates our exclusivity, which in turn creates our value — Economics 101.
It is entirely unreasonable, and unprofitable, to expect pristine resort communities like Summit County to be economically available only to a local population. Listening to recent local scuttlebutt would indicate this as our legitimate lifestyle goal. But the reality of resort towns dictates otherwise. Sorry to call it out, but resort-town real estate ownership is for those who can afford it as second homes, vacation homes and short-term rentals.
Everybody else who chooses to live and work here has to either fit in around the edges of that prosperity or find another less expensive place to live. Nobody has the right to live here, especially at government expense. Everyone has the choice to live here if they can earn it and afford it. I’d love to live on a cliff in Palo Alto, California, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, but I don’t expect the government to pay for it.
So let’s not frame the conversation as a local housing crisis with only a government solution. It’s more of a standard operating procedure for resort towns. There are plenty of individual workers out there who would love to fill jobs in Summit County and who have taken it upon themselves with personal responsibility to procure housing in the area. The mayor’s perceived common good does not necessarily usurp individual achievement nor does it justify a one-size-fits-all bureaucratic solution.
Many good housing strategies are available that combine private and public cooperation and should be examined closely. It’s not easy, and it’s not cheap, but the housing solution has to reside with individuals and entrepreneurs and not with the government. Let us not endeavor to make our exceptional and exclusive county ordinary and mundane.
Kim McGahey’s column “Conservative Common Sense” publishes biweekly on Tuesdays in the Summit Daily News. McGahey is a real estate broker, tea party activist and former Republican candidate. He has lived in Breckenridge since 1978. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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