Falling through the housing cracks
September 12, 2008
ASPEN ” What if there was a town where a doctor or lawyer couldn’t afford to buy a house?
Such a town, it turns out, may exist ” and you may be living in it.
As housing prices rise in the Roaring Fork Valley, the gap between those who can afford free-market housing and those served by local affordable housing programs continues to widen.
And in Aspen, the gap is largely populated by the professional class, according to Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Office executive director Tom McCabe.
“We’ve had doctors ” or other high-end professionals ” come talk to us about getting into affordable housing,” he said.
Downvalley, the gap is filled with households in the $53,000 to $90,000 range, according to Janet Rippy, executive director of the Mountain Regional Housing Corporation, which serves parts of Garfield and Eagle County. She speculated those in the gap were largely “young professionals.”
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“I get calls all the time,” said Rippy. “I get e-mails all the time ” we just moved into the area and we can’t find a place to live. Can you help us? And I can’t.”
The main goal of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Office is to house the local work force, according to McCabe. As such, it is not currently focused on how to house a professional class unable to afford free market housing, he said.
And despite the fact that some doctors and lawyers have “drifted in” to the housing office, Aspen’s professional class hasn’t yet undertaken a significant political effort to request housing for their income levels.
“We’re not getting any feedback from the public that there’s any need there,” he said.
However, the authority has recently introduced three categories of housing for higher income levels. The highest level, Category 7, has an income cap of $167,000 for an individual and $189,500 for a family with three dependents.
McCabe acknowledged that fewer units exist in these upper categories (about 90 units, as opposed to the roughly 900 units in Categories 1-4), but he also noted that there is less demand for housing in these income levels. He suspects, however, that demand will grow as the downvalley door shuts tighter.
Between Category 7 housing and free-market housing, is another class of housing known as Resident Occupied (RO). The roughly 500 RO units upvalley are “as close as we get” to a class of property that can bridge the gap between affordable housing and free-market housing, said McCabe. Although these units do not have a price cap, they must be purchased by qualified employees with less than $900,000 in assets who will use the home as their primary residence.
Unlike Aspen and Pitkin County, Snowmass’ affordable housing program doesn’t use income categories, said housing manager Joe Coffey. Still, the town has tried to build housing that accommodates all income levels; for-sale housing options range from a $95,000 one-bedroom condo to a large single-family home in The Crossing that could sell for as much as $600,000.
Nevertheless, Coffey believes there is gap between the town’s low- and high-end housing options, since much of its stock has been aimed at middle-income residents.
And while he would like to increase the stock of housing aimed at higher income levels, he pointed out that “the more income you have, the more options you have to find or buy housing.”
Downvalley, both the Mountain Regional Housing Corporation ” which covers parts of Garfield and Eagle counties ” and the Garfield County Housing Authority only serve those who make 80 percent of median income or less. This means Garfield County residents are eligible for affordable housing only if they make $37,250 or less as a single person, or $61,700 or less as a family of six. For the area served by Mountain Regional Housing, households are eligible for its housing programs if they earn $53,200 or less.
Garfield County, however, is trying to create three income categories at 80, 100 and 120 percent of average median income. Such a change would make affordable housing an option for more downvalley residents.
Mountain Regional Housing’s Rippy, who’s been on the job only two months, says the agency currently has no concrete plans to try to bridge the gap between affordable and free-market housing. However, she recognizes the need.
“I don’t know what the answer is ” and it’s not going to be solved within the next year or two,” she said.