Candidates offer thoughts on more housing
April 21, 2003
As we always like to do before an election, we will be grilling the candidates for two seats on the Aspen City Council and the mayor’s seat during the next week.
We have asked all 12 candidates for the May 6 election a series of questions that will appear this week.
The Aspen Times, Aspen Daily News and GrassRoots TV have also teamed up to host Squirm Night this Friday night, when the media and audience members can pepper the candidates with questions. The event will be held at City Hall chambers, with the council candidates onstage from 5 to 7 p.m., and the mayoral candidates from 7:30 to 9 p.m.
Today’s question is: In recent years we’ve heard more and more criticism about the need for more affordable housing. The fact that renting new units at Truscott proved difficult added fuel to that fire. However, we continue to hear of many local families and others moving on because they can’t afford housing. Where do you stand on the building of more affordable housing, and explain the reason for your position.
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I believe affordable “family” housing is the key toward establishing a sustainable local community and economy. By focusing on family housing, 2- and 3-bedroom detached or townhouse-style homes, we can stem the tide of all the great families moving downvalley.
I believe that families make Aspen what we are, and what we can be in the future. It is the members of these families that form the nucleus of our community, that always volunteer when needed to help a local nonprofit or a citizen in need for a life-threatening medical emergency.
But, the single most important thing a family wants is to own their own home. In the past we have created a much-needed rental program, but now we need to fill the need of “family” housing. And, we need to be smart about how we do it. We need to take advantage of opportunities while we protect our community from being over-built.
An example of where we might have done better is the housing community built around our schools. I would have liked us to create more density by utilizing some townhouse-style units. Additionally, reduce the lot size to add units.
Because of the ARC and numerous fields available to families living there we had an opportunity to do more. Finally, in respect to the units that were built by the school. I would have liked to see the size slightly increased so each home could have more family space.
In conclusion, let me put this out on the table. We only have so much space available to build if we are to protect the environment and lifestyle that brought us to Aspen in the first place. Let’s be smart about what we build and not just build for the sake of doing something.
I welcome your thoughts and comments at email@example.com.
In the past, there has always been a waiting list for the subsidized housing. For the first time, there have been vacancies at both Truscott and Marolt. For the first time ever, there are unusual vacancies in the private sector. People have called me to complain they can’t rent their units.
RO (resident-occupied) units are creating housing for people with assets up to $900,000. The RO units have been readily approved by the council in recent times because they require less, or no, public subsidy. However, they are catering to a wealthier segment of the population. Is this the housing we should be encouraging?
And the purported benefit to the community of creating housing, whether RO or one of the categories, is often being used by private developers as a Trojan horse to get approvals for projects that might have otherwise been more carefully scrutinized.
Despite the public vote in favor of the Burlingame project, and the direction that vote gave to the council, I have always had concerns. I don’t like its location, outside of town, adding to our transportation woes.
Equally counter to my belief in preserving our natural environment is that Burlingame entailed developing hundreds of units spread throughout an environmentally sensitive area that should be left pristine. It is an unfortunate example of sprawl and all its evils.
All this raises questions of whether we truly need to build more units, and if so, when, what kind, where? In an economy that is in a downward spiral, shouldn’t we adjust to the economic realities? Are there enough jobs to support the housing?
Do I support lower-cost housing? Absolutely! Will I put housing above other community goals? No. Balance is key to everything in our community. I will continue to fight for that balance.
If Aspen is to remain a community, affordable housing is necessary. Currently, Aspen provides housing for 40 to 45 percent of its work force. The current City Council has agreed upon a goal to house 55 percent of Aspen’s work force.
The city’s new housing policy provides a rational guide for housing development. No more shotgun approach without fiscal consideration.
Burlingame Parcel D will provide 40 Category 2 and 3 one-bedroom sale units, and will be under construction this summer. Design of Burlingame Ranch infrastructure is under way.
However, I continue to believe the city must cautiously approach this development due to projected costs ($94 million to $100 million), particularly in our current economy with fewer jobs available, and higher vacancy rates. Also, my concerns with urban sprawl remain.
To avoid the irreversible damage of urban sprawl, I will continue to pursue the potential of infill housing, support the development of a policy on buy-downs, and explore other innovative ideas.
I support an affordable housing program that fits with other community goals, and development that fits with the character and scale of the neighborhoods where it will be built.
New housing guidelines with additional categories provide incentive for more participation by the private sector to build necessary housing. Work continues on those guidelines to insure that proper and fair qualifying criteria exist for all applicants.
Unfortunately, even with new housing, incentives and stricter enforcement, there will always be a limited affordable housing supply.
Our City Council pretends to fight growth, yet they continue to build, build, build, to the detriment of our mountain environment, our forests and our wildlife habitat.
To my way of thinking, the building of affordable housing without regard to true need is fueling many of our growth and transportation problems. If you keep supplying the fuel for growth, which are more employees, our population will keep growing. Affordable housing should be given to the private sector to build to the needs of the true work force.
Further, the rules and regulations that govern the qualifications for employee housing also need to be seriously reconsidered. The original intent and spirit of the housing program was to replace lost housing for workers. To paraphrase a well known tune … there are people out there turning housing into gold.
In my opinion, it is not the purpose of the housing program to have people competing in a lottery for housing who already own a free-market home, with those who do not have a home at all. Nor is it the spirit of this program to provide owners with huge windfall profits on the sale of their existing free-market homes, if they enter and win the housing lottery.
The housing should be for Aspen workers who have no home.
Affordable housing is important to the preservation of local residents in Aspen, who are finding it exceedingly difficult to stay in Aspen over the long term.
I believe Aspen needs to retain a critical mass of local residents who are a significant part of making Aspen the special place that it is. I believe affordable housing should be pursued with emphasis on quality architecture and construction, livability and affordability.
While there is some need for rental housing, I believe the production of for-sale housing will ultimately result in our ability to retain a stable work force over the long term. That said, I believe we must always keep in mind that affordable housing is development and has real impacts on the community and its infrastructure.
In a very real sense, it is a balancing act between community goals of open space, community character, financial responsibility and maintaining a vital work force in our community. It is a worthwhile program which deserves our best efforts to insure its success while always recognizing its potential to adversely affect our community character.
I arrived here 30 years ago. I have continually heard the same stories and I suspect that won’t change.
Our affordable housing program is not designed to provide housing for everyone that desires it; no modern society I know has accomplished such a program.
Community voters have approved taxing and mitigation mechanisms that support affordable housing. Consistent with those realities, we have established goals that can accommodate a wide variety of housing needs. Yet, even as our housing program is widely heralded as being boldly successful, it cannot satisfy everyone’s desires.
The Aspen Area Community Plan and Affordable Housing Master Plan are exhaustive studies that reflect our affordable housing goals. They are mandated to be routinely updated to consider changing circumstances.
They state that the community will cap the total number of affordable housing units. I am told that we have 606 units (as of Feb. 2002) to go unless updated community goals indicate that an adjustment is needed. Until then I continue to be a strong proponent of the most livable, environmentally green, affordable housing that we can provide consistent with economic reality.
It seems our rental needs have been met for now. The demand for a variety of types of purchase units is still there but we must not over-build, as has happened in a previous administration. This would undercut the support for the housing program and put us in a financial bind. Let’s proceed with cautious optimism.
We may be temporarily (or permanently) “maxed” out with our rental stock, but there is still a great demand for “for sale” units.
I don’t want the backbone of our community, people with children and families, to continue to migrate downvalley. We have to provide opportunities for these people to stay here.
Aspen needs to stay vital with many different types of people – families, singles, essential personnel (i.e., doctors, firemen, teachers), and the way to accomplish that is via a broad-based housing program.
I support building Burlingame (big) as it will fill the above needs and accomplish those goals. We also have a contract with the Zoline family and must build the infrastructure at Burlingame, so we must complete that aspect of the project, regardless …
With over two-thirds of our population living in deed-restricted housing, we have done an outstanding job of caring for our working people.
The unique community and volunteer spirit that shape our town are a direct result of this 30-year effort. We must, however, move very cautiously regarding future development.
There will always be a demand in Aspen for deed-restricted housing. However, if we proceed to plan and build more housing projects at the current pace, we run the very real possibility of exceeding the carrying capacity of this small valley.
Our elementary and middle school have already reached capacity. After a $40 million-plus renovation to our high school we have already filled 480 of the 500 places. Our hospital must occasionally redirect business during the busy months as it does not have the infrastructure to accommodate the need.
Traffic, congestion and parking issues will only worsen in our downtown core as we accommodate more growth.
Finally, 30 short years from now as workers transition from the workplace to their golden years, these outlying villages will turn into retirement communities – i.e. Burlingame Retirement Community. Where will we house our workers then?
We should continue our affordable housing program by following a reasonable and balanced approach that does not outstrip our capacity to serve the community and does not exacerbate all the problems associated with excessive growth.
We have lodging vacancies, yet who suggests not rebuilding our bed base until existing lodges are filled, or suspending open space purchases because of lessened development pressures?
The problem is the economy, not locals hoping for a chance at home ownership. Many residents live in free-market homes that are rapidly turning into second homes, displacing workers while adding jobs.
Housing is an investment in our future. Working residents add vitality to Aspen, volunteering for nonprofits and spending money here. They support the Isis and Wheeler, not Movieland; patronize local restaurants year-round; support live music; shop at Clark’s, Carl’s, Alpine Hardware, etc.
Burlingame was approved by Aspen 60 to 40 percent in 2000. Let’s proceed in phases, not study this to death. It will stem the loss of middle-class families and young and middle age community members.
The start/stop cycle leads to crisis rather than careful planning. We have the money to build Burlingame but the current council wants it to build four-stories of commercial, housing and free-market condos beside Rio Grande Park! Another $3 million is frozen in property council is using for Obermeyer redevelopment – worthy perhaps, but inappropriate for housing funds.
Land should be sold to services like the schools and hospital for their workers. Let these groups build RO as they deem necessary. RO should be created by private parties, not the city program (and sold to individuals, not corporations).
We shouldn’t try to house everyone who wants to live here. Affordable housing must match community need, within the limits of growth control.
The affordable housing program was initiated to support our resort community with places for locals to live in the city, rather than downvalley.
I think there still is demand for some categories of affordable housing, but we should only build them here in town. I’m not excited about building complexes in remote areas that will add costs for RFTA and other services. I believe there are places in town on present bus routes that would be preferable.
The city has a shortsighted approach in the affordable housing program planning and budgeting that overlooks the need for additional required infrastructure.
For example, the elementary school had 25 classes 10 years ago. Next year there could be as many as 28 classes in a school designed for 25. The effects of 500 more families in affordable housing on a school already filled to capacity, along with the effects on roads, transit and other services must be taken into account.
The affordable housing program has far too many loopholes that allow people with free market homes to buy affordable units and pocket the difference. In some cases, the free market homes are kept indefinitely for rental income. This abuse of the system and others must be stopped. It taints the entire program.
I also would like to see a three-tier lottery. When inventory is for sale it would be divided into critical services, number of lottery participations, and general pool. That way, those that need homes the most, and those that we need close by, would get them.
One need only look at two recently completed projects council approved to see that we can do better. Truscott was repainted at a cost of $80,000. The 7th and Main project was approved with a mini-mart/deli on the first floor, which was later deemed inappropriate for the complex.
Our past councils have thought of affordable housing as a temporary solution to house “worker bees.” Well, now is the time for us to focus on quality, livability and compatibility. We don’t need more cement boxes, we need real options for Aspenites that are the lifeblood of our community.
As the only candidate that is currently looking for affordable rental or purchase options, I have firsthand experience with some of the problems in our housing program. Hopefully, we all agree that our affordable housing program is necessary to sustaining Aspen’s vitality and economy. The question now is how much, what kind and for whom.
I have a three-phase plan to make our housing program more efficient.
First, we need to concentrate on fulfilling existing housing potential so we can be more effective, avoid overbuilding or building projects that don’t fulfill future demands. Phase two focuses on quality over quantity. It is in our housing projects that we must promote environment, mass transportation, livability and compatibility.
And thirdly, we need to build housing that satisfies the role AH plays in our community. Encouraging long-term families and residents active in our community to build a life here should be our priority.
We can do better.
Editor’s note: Vitashka Kirshen was unable to complete today’s question, but said she will be answering the rest of the questions this week.