Dr. Bill Hettinger, who studies housing in resort communites, will share ideas—also, free tacos!
As Mammoth Lakes Housing prepares to move into phase two of its Community Housing Action Plan, the nonprofit will host Dr. Bill Hettinger, who is an expert on housing in resort communities, to speak in Mammoth on Wednesday, July 26.
Jennifer Halferty, Executive Director of MLH, said that she was clearing a bookshelf when she came across Hettinger’s book “Living and Working in Paradise: Why Housing is too Expensive and What Communities Can Do About It,” which was written about ten years ago. She didn’t even know how she’d come to possess it, but she opened it up and started reading.
“It wasn’t anything I didn’t know, but he puts it in a way that anybody could pick it up and read it and get it,” said Halferty. “A lot of books I read about housing are so in the weeds, but this was just really easy to digest.”
Halferty said MLH has never done anything quite like this before, but it seemed like a good way to garner community interest in Mammoth’s current housing crisis and possible solutions. She said that MLH is using its “board development” funds (Hettinger charges about $3,000 as a speaker fee), which they often don’t spend, to finance the event, which will include a simultaneous Spanish interpreter and free refreshments from Black Doubt Brewing and Latin Market.
“We really wanted to get people thinking about working together” ahead of phase two of the Action Plan developed by WSW Consulting (find a link to Part 1 on The Sheet’s website and Facebook page). “Let’s start tackling [this crisis], making sure we’re looking for political will and community will,” said Halferty.
Community will, Dr. Hettinger says, is what it will take to make headway on the problem. Though Hettinger’s book is a decade old, he says, he still currently studies resort communities, what makes them unique, which communities are “doing it right,” and which have been left with no choice but to bus in their workforce.
Hettinger told The Sheet this week that he first started thinking about the issue on a vacation to Mexico. He and his wife were going to swim with dolphins, and when they arrived at their destination in Puerto Aventuras, “all of the Mexican workers were getting off a bus and walking into this community…for me, it posed two questions. Where do these people live? And did we take all of these Mexicans and displace them?”
Hettinger has studied both mountain and beach communities, and finds that they share many of the same challenges—they’re remotely located, they’re staffed with a low-wage workforce often made up of a large immigrant population, and they’re meccas for wealthy second homeowners who compete with the workforce for housing across all price points.
“The problem with resort communities is it becomes too exclusive [to live there]. There’s no adjoining area to move to,” said Hettinger. “There’s no Mammoth Lakes suburb that I can move to and easily commute to work.”
Hettinger said that he hopes to share some of his experience and knowledge with Mammoth Lakes in order to move from the planning stage to the action stage. “What I’ve been asked to share is some of the critical steps in getting from needs assessment strategies … to what you have to do do make a program successful,” said Hettinger. “To move from your needs assessment to ‘This is how.’”
WSW Consulting’s needs assessment, published last week, found what many Mammoth residents have seen anecdotally—there is simply not enough housing for current residents, let alone those hoping to move to town. The increase in employment opportunities has not correlated with an increase in available properties.
“Changes in the housing market, employer and employment issues, and community housing issues in Mammoth Lakes since 2011 can be summarized with one key indicator…480 jobs added since 2011, most of which were added in the past two years; 22 homes available to residents added since 2011, all of which are rentals,” states the assessment. “The additional housing inventory is about one tenth of what was needed.”
Those trying to find housing in Mammoth don’t need an assessment to tell them what they already know—the housing stock is woefully inadequate, and the rise of platforms like Airbnb and VRBO have exacerbated the problem. Mammoth isn’t alone. “The stat I cite is that in 2010, 8 percent of leisure travelers used [Short Term Rentals],” Matt Kies-sling, with the Travel Technology Associ-ation (funded by Airbnb, HomeAway, and Trip- Advisor), told Tom Vanderbilt in Vanderbilt’s recent Outside Magazine story, “Did Airbnb Kill the Mountain Town?”
“By the end of 2016, that was projected to be one in three,” said Kiessling.
“What the internet and Airbnb has done is created a lot more hotel rooms than you know about,” said Hettinger. “That brings in more people, it creates more demand for workers” while simultaneously taking homes off the market for those very workers.
So where are the solutions? Hettinger says he looks to the examples of resort communities who have been successful in providing affordable housing stock.
“Aspen is the poster child of doing it right,” he says, noting that many Colorado communities have implemented strategies for ensuring workforce housing is a priority. “In each of these communities there’s a very strong sense of community will and political will…to make sure housing is provided for the local workers. It’s a transformation of culture. People in those communities want to make sure housing is provided.”
Hettinger says that, just like a position on taxes, politicians in these communities often run on their position on housing.