Opinion | Ted Konnerth: Wages, cost of living both contribute to housing dilemma | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Ted Konnerth: Wages, cost of living both contribute to housing dilemma

Ted Konnerth

It was love at first sight for me. Over 30 years ago, I made my first visit to Summit County and knew I had found my nirvana. At that time, I was slowly grinding my way up in a corporation and had neither the time nor capital to invest in a place of my own in Colorado. But I knew it was just a matter of time.

I spent years bringing my family to the mountains over Christmas and spring break periods, surrounded by the throngs of other visitors. I learned how to ski and eventually tried playing golf at altitude, and I was hooked on mountain living. For several years, I relied on my Denver friends who had friends in the mountains willing to loan out their condos during ski season. I learned that if you were in Denver, you probably had a contact or two to give you a free place to bunk down for a weekend of skiing. As expensive as it was to ski then, with free room and board and my travel miles, I could afford to take my family of four on trips year after year.

I eventually bought my own town house and began to bring friends and family out to experience the mountains, as well. My younger brother was just as captivated as I was when he first came out. Then he brought his family out and, eventually, his daughter moved out after college and joined Vail Resorts. When my niece joined Vail, she was paid $8 an hour, was assigned to a bunkroom apartment with three other women (which was deducted from her wages) and got a free ski pass. In less than a month, she was promoted to overseeing the kid ski lessons department and got a raise to $9 an hour.

A short time later, her dad (my brother) sadly passed away, and I became her executor. It was at that time I began to recognize that Summit County had a distorted economy, where Vail Resorts could hire hundreds of college-educated graduates for $8 or $9 an hour, throw them into a dorm environment and they would be happy to basically work for free skiing. I never grasped why they couldn’t simply rent their own apartment until my niece explained that she couldn’t make enough money working at Vail to have a place on her own. That was roughly 2009.

I convinced my niece to find a job with a livable wage and buy her own ski pass. It took a while, but she started waiting tables and then managing a pizza place, and she made more money in cash than she had ever made as a Vail Resorts employee. And she bought her own ski pass!

Fast forward to 2021. Workforce housing is a crisis. Home construction is booming, with the average cost of a single-family home now well over $1 million. Teachers, firefighters, store employees and laborers can’t make it work, and now Summit County (and other ski towns) are faced with the toughest challenge: How do you build new housing that can be rented or bought by people who likely won’t make over $50,000 a year when rent for small apartments is nearly half of take-home pay? The discussions are raging over subsidized housing, deed-restricted housing, short-term rentals versus long-term rentals and where to build this new housing in a period when the Vail Resorts economy has fully come home to roost.

Vail Resorts announced its new minimum wage is $15 an hour. If you work full time, that’s just over $30,000 a year. You would have to have a second income to rent a reasonable apartment. The economy is still distorted. Summit County has become a portrait of the income gap facing America. I believe the county needs to address the meaning of a livable wage as it tries to wrestle with the affordable housing market. We need the working community to earn decent wages and live in decent housing. I feel it’s time to address both sides of the issue.

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