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Ruther stepping down as Vail housing director, leaving legacy of innovation

November 20, 2023, 9:18 am

The Town of Vail on Monday issued the following press release on George Ruther stepping down from his position as Vail’s housing director:

George Ruther

George Ruther, the longtime housing director and former community development director for the Town of Vail best known for his role in facilitating housing programs that have put Vail in the national spotlight for their innovation and results, is stepping down from his post. Ruther has informed the town of his intention to resign and will remain on the staff until a new director is hired.  

“It’s bittersweet,” says Ruther. “I’ve enjoyed the challenges over the years, but there comes a day when it’s time to step aside.”  

Ruther’s tenure with the town began in 1994 when he was hired as a planner in the Community Development Department. In 2011 he succeeded current Town Manager Russ Forrest as the department’s director, assuming the final planning and development phases of Vail’s billion-dollar public-private renewal of its village cores. As Vail’s housing crisis intensified with studies predicting alarming declines in Vail’s ability to retain a stable workforce, Ruther was appointed to lead a new housing department in 2018, reviving the Vail Local Housing Authority and its partnership with the Town Council. Together, an unconventional approach was introduced – declaring resident housing to be a vital piece of Vail’s infrastructure whereby the investment of dedicated tax dollars would be used to build community and bolster the economy through the creation of deed-restricted homes.  

Since then, these efforts have resulted in the creation of over 1,050 deed restricted homes for full-time community members in Vail and throughout the valley, up 54% from 2018, with an allocated investment of over $83.6 million from the Vail town government. 

The results have been driven by the Vail Town Council’s adopted goal of acquiring 1,000 new deed-restrictions by the year 2027 which was an audacious goal when Ruther and the Vail Local Housing Authority proposed it in 2017. “We saw the need to think differently and be bold with our goals and strategies and to inspire the community to embrace these actions and it has been paying off,” says Ruther. He says the momentum and support for housing programs by the current and incoming town council is gratifying. “I’m proud of the many partnerships and collaborations that have evolved over the years and to now see the community is well on its way to achieving even greater opportunities in the future.” 

Steve Lindstrom, chair of the Vail Local Housing Authority, has worked with Ruther since the inception of the town’s housing initiatives. “I will miss my daily work with George but as any true leader does, he has left us in very good hands in order to build on the relationships he developed with community members valley-wide during the past 30 years, and the vast opportunities for more deed-restricted housing in the pipeline.” Lindstrom says Ruther has been the catalyst to turn Vail’s housing programs on its head through his innovation and creativity. For example, Lindstrom cites the highly successful Vail InDeed program, established in 2018, in which the town purchases deed-restrictions, many from existing housing stock. More than 180 homes have been leveraged this way, providing housing opportunities to more than 380 qualifying residents who work an average of 30 or more hours per week in Eagle County. Through Ruther’s guidance, Vail InDeed has been the inspiration for similar programs established in other resort communities spanning from Lake Tahoe/Truckee, CA to Nantucket, MA, as well as neighboring Breckenridge, Avon, and Eagle County. As such, in 2020, the Vail InDeed program was recognized for its results-driven innovation and exceptional housing policy approach with the Robert C. Larson Housing Policy Leadership Award presented by the Urban Land Institute. 

In 2023 Ruther’s notable accomplishments caught the attention of the Urban Land Institute when he was invited to participate in two Advisory Services Panels in Anna Maria Island, FL and Bozeman, MT comprised of planning professionals from across the country. Closer to home, Ruther has been awarded with the 2019 Eagle Award from Colorado HousingNOW. 

Kim Langmaid, who recently completed an eight-year term on the Vail Town Council, the past two as mayor, says Ruther’s legacy will inspire future leaders to take challenges head on. “More than anything, George has shown me the value of sticking to my principles even when it seems to be an unpopular path. Forward-thinking governance takes political will and that has been proven time and time again in this community.”  

Town Manager Russ Forrest says Ruther has continued to approach Vail’s housing challenges with fresh ideas which most recently resulted in completion of The Residences at Main Vail, with its 72 rental homes within walking distance of Vail Village, and involvement of the business community in the pending redevelopment of the west side of Timber Ridge. “One of the reasons I was really excited about returning to the Town of Vail was the leadership George has brought to our community in addressing the housing crisis,” says Forrest. “Vail is absolutely the leader in housing solutions among resort communities across the country. George will be leaving us in a very good position to only continue to grow our housing efforts with the innovative ideas and partnerships he created.” 

Vail Mayor Pro-Tem Travis Coggin says the availability of housing for Vail residents is vital to the continued success of the Vail community. “George is to be commended for creating a successful framework for the Vail Town Council and the Vail Local Housing Authority to be able to take bold steps towards addressing the housing needs of the citizens of Vail today, and well into the future.” 

Partnerships with the private sector have been a key to the town’s recent housing successes.  “In the 40 years that I have been in real estate development, never have I met a more professional, knowledgeable and conscientious public servant that George,” says Steve Virostek, Principal, Triumph Development. “While George has been a positive force in community development for close to 30 years, his passion and dedication for the creation of affordable housing in Vail will have an impact on individuals and families for generations.” 

More than anything, Ruther says he’s proud of the relationships he’s created with the recipients of his efforts. “It has been truly gratifying to help a first-time homebuyer fulfill their American dream.” One of those recipients, Robyn Smith, says Ruther was instrumental in convincing her and husband Patrick to pursue ownership of a townhome at Chamonix Vail, built in 2017.  “George made us possible. Our house is more than a home – it’s a community, a life, a future. Chamonix gave us the space to escape the cycle of housing insecurity endemic to this ski town life.” 

Accolades aside, Ruther is quick to compliment his colleagues in the housing department for their tireless work behind the scenes and commitment to the housing department’s mission. “Lynne Campbell, Martha Anderson and Missy Johnson have been instrumental in supporting our successes.” Ruther also credits the tenacity and resolve of the volunteer members of the Vail Local Housing Authority for their dedication to ensuring homes for Vail residents within the community.  

The town will begin its search for a new housing director, with application information available soon on the town’s website at www.vail.gov. Once a candidate has been hired, Ruther will stay on as needed to help with the transition in leadership and is expected to consult on future special projects.  

Looking ahead, Ruther and wife Amy plan to split time between Wildridge and their new winter home in Fountain Hills, Arizona, hiking, road biking, and enjoying winter in the desert.  

“I’m in awe of the dedication, commitment, and resolve demonstrated by the Vail Town Council and the Vail Local Housing Authority in delivering housing solutions for the Vail community,” says Ruther. “I’ve had the opportunity to share Vail’s lessons learned and housing successes across the country. The Town Council, Vail Local Housing Authority and Vail’s residents truly are its secret sauce to success. Without them and homes for Vail residents to live, work, and raise a family, Vail is just another ski resort.” 

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