What kind of community do we want?

By Judith Alexander, MSW
Clinical social worker in private practice in Jefferson County since 1983

Nine months ago, I was not yet active within the Housing Solutions Network (HSN) nor had I paid particular attention to the realities of our local housing crisis. After joining the educational Outreach Housing Action Team I’ve found that I think about our housing crisis almost every single day. For me, this crisis is all about what kind of community we want, and intend, to be. Having loved living here since 1979, when I arrived in my late 20’s, I’ve seen many changes, and some recent changes are very worrisome to me.

In creating the locally produced HSN educational video, I learned a lot. I was shocked to learn that a quarter of our housing stock is second homes that remain vacant for much of the year! While I understand the desire to vacation here, or retire here in the future, the increasing purchase of second homes is taking a resource that our community sorely needs – housing for those who contribute actively to the fabric of our community. Now is the time to invite these second homeowners, along with everyone else, to become actively engaged with how to use our resources to keep Jefferson County vibrant and diverse. Second (and other) homeowners can be a part of the solution by selling or renting their houses and ADU units to local people who want to live and work here – creating much-needed housing for individuals or families, while also having an income source and a safer, well-cared-for occupied home, instead of an unoccupied one.    

Our housing crisis is serious. It is scary, and painful, for those who are unable to have or maintain a roof over their heads, knowing they could easily be evicted from their long term rental for tourist or short term rental income for their landlords, especially when knowing that finding alternative housing is near impossible, now, with a 0 – 1% rental vacancy rate.  As rents skyrocket it becomes increasingly difficult for young people and the fixed income elderly to either move here, or to remain here in Jefferson County, a place many have thought would be their home forever.  

Can you imagine what it might feel like to have been here most of your life, having to live elsewhere as housing costs become increasingly untenable? The community many of us have both valued and in many ways contributed to building, the one that makes others want to live here too, is being altered by incoming wealth and people who lack the understanding of what makes this community what it is. This is a great community because most of us who care contribute our gifts and talents to making, and keeping it that way.  Second homes leave holes in neighborhoods… empty homes with no vibrancy or contribution to a neighborly connection. While renting out second homes can come with challenges, we can devise solutions to address those challenges if we work together!

I want to live in an income and age-diverse community. It is the emotional disconnect between those varied groups separated by differences in income and age that I most want our video and educational outreach to bridge. Our understanding, our empathy, and ultimately, our leaning into compassion will be what helps the community that I want to live in remain possible, and sustainable, going forward.  We each contribute to the creation of the community where we live.

Please consider getting involved in the Housing Solutions Network. Attend or host a screening of the video. Be an active participant in this community dialogue. Ask yourself what you have to contribute: what skill, what shift in your thinking or comfort level, what housing, whatever! Get involved. We all have solutions we can offer to support this growing and eager network.  You are encouraged to join us! The very quality of our community depends on us all to do so.

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