Wanted: work-force housing
September 12, 2008
Affordable housing in the Roaring Fork Valley is at something of a crossroads.
The well-established program created by Aspen and Pitkin County has come under steady public fire in recent months for perceived mismanagement, and has exhausted its monetary reserves in a $31 million land-banking effort during 2007. The program needs a cash infusion to continue building work-force housing, but elected officials have been reluctant to ask voters’ permission to borrow millions of dollars when the housing program’s reputation has hit an all-time low.
At the same time, the need for housing is at an all-time high. Employers are reporting more and more trouble attracting and retaining employees because of Aspen’s absurdly high housing costs, and every employee who moves downvalley represents more traffic on an already congested Highway 82. The housing office’s own research indicates that it is actually housing a meager 23 percent of local workers, when the Aspen Area Community Plan sets the bar at 60 percent.
Moreover, the downvalley “relief valve” no longer exists. With single-family homes passing the $1 million mark in Basalt and midvalley one-bedrooms renting for $2,000, middle-class workers are looking even farther afield for places to live. But with the oil and gas boom driving up prices to the west, Aspen service workers can hardly get a housing foothold in Garfield County.
Now, more than ever, affordable housing is truly a regional problem.
The Aspen Times staff has taken a multifaceted look at the housing issue. We start at ground zero, the upper Roaring Fork Valley, where local affordable housing first took root and where the modern-day problems are perhaps most acute. We take a look at the Aspen Skiing Co., the private company that has arguably been the most proactive about housing its employees. And then we ask which workers are falling through the cracks, and cannot seem to find a place that fits their budget. Finally, in light of rising real estate values from Aspen to Parachute, we explore whether anyone is trying to apply regional remedies to the situation.