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America’s Low-Income Housing Crisis: Colorado Tourist Town Edition

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In Crested Butte, Colorado, the rentals have gone so out of control, in no small part thanks to AirBNB, that the people who actually work in the town are forced to live in the forest:

Melanie Rees used to have neighbors. Now, signs advertising vacation rentals mar the homes in Crested Butte’s Meridian Lake subdivision. More and more, housing units are commercial lodging, not homes, she says.

“In all of these towns we have what is commonly being called now a rental crisis,” she says. “The number of jobs available is pages long in our newspaper and we may have three or four for rent.”

Crested Butte isn’t the only Western town facing a housing crunch. Rees works as a contract housing consultant for the Colorado Association of Ski Towns. She has seen similar situations across the Rockies. When the recession ended, second home owners returned with en masse. They bought up property to rent out on sites like VRBO and AirBnB. This left the booming local workforce short on places to live.

This leads not only to problems of equity and dignity, but environmental problems as well:

Eight miles north of Crested Butte lies the town of Gothic. In the late 1800s, the town boomed with silver. Now, it’s home to the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. Every summer, more than 150 national scientists descend on the town to study things like how marmots react to climate change. But this year, destructive visitors overran the area, says the field station’s director, Ian Billick. “We have locations directly adjacent to us here at the research facility where people have cut vegetation down, there’s human feces,” he explains. “We’ve had scientists remove research plots because of the amount of human waste.”

And what happens when the ski season hits and it’s too cold for those workers to camp? Who knows.

This is basically the result of an unregulated capitalist housing market with no regulations to protect housing for working-class people. Whether in San Francisco or Crested Butte, deregulated housing regulations allow for skyrocketing prices. That’s a terrible social end. Something has to be done. But nothing will be done.

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