Aspen City Council candidates offer solutions on affordable housing
The Aspen Times has asked candidates for Aspen City Council to answer five questions about who they are and what their positions are on various issues facing the community.
We are publishing one question and their answers from the candidates each day this week, Monday through Friday.
Today is the third question and it’s about affordable housing.
Question 3: What are your top three ideas to produce more workforce housing where it would make a notable difference in the problem, which is that there is not enough of it?
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Housing is our most critical challenge. We must unequivocally commit to keeping our commitments to the retirees who built this community, and recommit to housing 60 percent of our workforce in town (we are at 38 percent and dropping).
This will be difficult and will require trade-offs we must accept. Without action, we will become a town comprised of 85-plus percent second homes with only the ultra-wealthy and the servant. That is not the Aspen I have come to love.
Here is what we can accomplish:
• Do something with our money! Our current council and candidates talk about housing, but have presided over a decline in our relative housing stock. Some actively campaigned against Burlingame! We have land to build on and a $29 million fund of your money depreciating every day. Let’s put it to use while considering density. Younger people like me have different expectations around space.
• Buy-downs, conversions and saviors. Before we build, we must ask: What can we buy cheaply? What can we convert, e.g. old lodges, so that more development is not the only answer? What “affordable free market” can we save by changing underlying zoning and fee structures to keep from artificially inflating their value? Every time we double the price of an “affordable free market” property, we drive a family downvalley or must subsidize them for over $1 million while adding development.
• Movement within the system. I speak to people every day whose circumstances have changed, and thus would love to move to a different unit within the system; right now, they cannot because of existing rules. Granting existing owners the freedom to move units while benefiting financially is a common sense way to free up space for new workers without building new units.
It is time to stop talking and act.
My path to more affordable housing is not in any way, shape or form to incentivize retirees who have served our community to move out of their homes. We must do everything possible to support those who have worked to make Aspen unique in a homogenized world.
Fix the code: Every job-generating square foot added to Aspen reduces the odds of finding affordable housing. When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Make growth pay its way. Best case, commercial development housing mitigation is only 65 percent. Effectively every commercial application starts with a 35 percent discount. Phase out this 35 percent discount 2 percent per year over 17.5 years.
I led the code change phasing out the discount for commercial scrape-and-replace. Eliminate the other discretionary and nondiscretionary discounts, including the 100 percent discount for essential public facilities such as the art museum.
Change cash-in-lieu calculations to the market affordability gap method to incentivize the certificates of affordable housing credit program.
Persuade Snowmass and Pitkin County upvalley of the Intercept Lot to match Aspen’s mitigation rates.
What do we have versus what do we want: Count the number of employee bedrooms, short-term rental and lodge bedrooms, free-market bedrooms (both year-round occupied and infrequently owner-occupied) including Snowmass and Pitkin County upvalley of the Intercept Lot.
Have a community conversation regarding those numbers: Are the ratios what we want? How much and what types of additional development are we willing to take on?
With what money: Bond a conservative amount safely covered by incoming taxes to build now versus later.
Develop the BMC parcel. Buy and build at the Smuggler Racquet Club. Wherever we build, we must build at a density no greater than nearby developments such as Smuggler Park and Centennial.
We need to first get a handle on our current inventory and make sure the people who are living in those units are qualified to be there. If they aren’t, they shouldn’t be there and qualified people should. Owners and renters should have to requalify every two years. Living in affordable housing is a privilege, not a right.
We have a small-lodge incentive program where the goal is to try to preserve the existing small-lodge bed base while providing a financial incentive from the city.
I would like to explore some type of workforce-housing incentive program where the same type of creative thinking could potentially persuade a business to create some workforce housing. We already have fee waivers for affordable housing when it comes to new development, so these would have to be incentives provided to the business that is creating the housing and intending to use it.
Lastly, build more units. The city owns land at the lumberyard and Burlingame III that can be built. The lumberyard would be a great site for dormitory-style units, or tiny homes, or a combination of both.
Partner with the businesses in town and dedicate a certain number of units to them to fill with their employees. I hear all the time that housing is one of the biggest barriers for employers to attract quality workers.
If a business could know I have X number of units with my name on it, that would go a long way to retaining workers.
We need to be more creative in the ways we think about housing.
Aspen is facing a severe labor shortage created by the lack of affordable housing to compensate for the steady loss of the workers who lived in town in free-market housing, the second-home demand valley-wide pushing real estate prices out of reach for many, growing employment opportunities in the lower valley attracting folks tired of commuting and the deeply held desires in Aspen to protect our community’s small-town character and surrounding rural areas.
Historically Aspen has embraced well-designed, appropriately scaled housing projects to stave off the loss of community and workers, even as Aspen has also engaged in a bit of wishful thinking about how little or how much housing the town would end up needing just to keep Aspen running.
As our program has matured, new challenges have arisen, such as the capital repairs and maintenance issues of older projects, and the potential loss of existing units from redevelopment and expiring deed restrictions.
To address the housing problem as a council member, I would involve the public to begin designing housing at the BMC West site. I would push to begin building Burlingame Phase III. I would seek public/private partnerships to find new housing opportunities, and to bring needed expertise and funding to potential projects.
I support adding seats for elected city and county representatives to the housing board to re-establish a synergistic working relationship between the three bodies concerning need, vision, projects and resources. I support clear objective enforcement guidelines and am determined to establish a fair, comprehensive and realistic program to help affordable-housing HOAs fix and maintain their homes.
Leading the way on hundreds of the housing units we have today, I know that our community’s support for and pride in the housing program is predicated on the quality and fit of each complex we develop.
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