Aspen mayoral candidates offer solutions to affordable housing
The Aspen Times has asked Aspen mayoral candidates 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. Last week, we published answers from candidates for Aspen City Council.
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?
There are a few limiting factors that arise when facing the housing crisis, which include the lack of space available for the housing and the cost of building the housing.
The re-evaluation of the building zoning heights would solve both, being that the space can be created when expanding upwards, and the cost of the build is greatly reduced as the scale grows.
I do not intend for the floodgates to be opened, unleashing the developers to build to new heights, blocking our sacred views. I do believe there are many areas in this city not holding the same esteem — Hunter Creek/Smuggler vicinity, Marolt possibly another.
There are a number of things to reduce the cost of building that need to be re-examined as well. Be it through the tiny home/tiny apartment movement, possibly the recycling of shipping containers into those tiny apartments, there are many options being visited in the current housing crisis (it exists not just here in Aspen) of the 21st century.
Finally, maybe not anyone’s favorite option, or even something most would consider, but the idea of going subterranean.
I would agree that this may not be the most “Aspen” idea, living beneath the views of surrounding beauty, but in this idea the lack of space, building cost and maintenance cost are curbed greatly.
The negatives of living in a hole underground seem numerous, with the disconnect from direct light at the forefront, but with nature at our fingertips and creative design, Aspen is the perfect place to expand upon this idea.
Here, we then provide yet another example for communities to follow in our footsteps. These are the solutions we should be looking to; ones that change cities forever.
APCHA systems: Complete the Housing Information Management System (HIMS) that will allow APCHA to collect data and analyze the housing program.
As this data system is being put in place, we will need to do a comprehensive census of the entire program. Finally we will know what we have, who is living where, where there is non-compliance, what units are not occupied, etc.
Then we can to identify the problems, start on solutions and fully utilize our existing inventory. In addition, we need to continue to evaluate APCHA governance.
New inventory: Build more units with our Employee Housing Fund and our Housing Development Fund.
The Employee Housing Fund is beginning the design process for building Water Place phase 2 (48 units).
The Housing Development Fund is completing a project in partnership with Aspen Housing Partners (45 units) and is beginning public outreach and design for Burlingame phase 3 (81 units); 174 total new units in the next several years can and should be constructed. Also, the city should strongly support the housing credit program.
Existing inventory: Of the 178 deed-restricted ownership units and 324 deed-restricted rental units, some have firm deed expiration dates in the next 13 to 20 years, while some units have a less certain date of expiration.
The city cannot lose this inventory and needs to begin planning for preserving this inventory of deed-restricted units. Additionally, there are several free-market complexes that function as affordable housing.
The city and complex owners can look into the possibility of these units becoming deed-restricted.
Creating new affordable housing is definitely the greatest challenge in our valley. I wouldn’t claim to have all the answers and certainly not three ideas that will solve our housing conundrum.
We should pursue all avenues, and maintain our community philosophy to house a significant portion of our workforce in the upper end of the valley and include a housing component in every project that creates demand for employees.
I would start by upholding the stated goals and requirements that our community is reliant on to help balance the effects of growth with sustainability.
My opponents have stated and voted that housing has not been their priority. When I was first elected to council in 2003, I was a deciding vote to approve Burlingame Ranch housing.
It was a contentious hearing with vocal opponents and I maintained my and our commitment to housing then and I will do the same now.
The city must continue to seek out appropriate new properties and partners and continue to be a supplier of deed-restricted units.
The city of Aspen also is generating new jobs and growth. It is imperative that a smart growth approach is utilized and the city needs to not exacerbate an already difficult issue.
There are few parcels that are available and affordable but the city must remain an active supplier of its own housing needs.
I will support allocating funds for maintenance and upkeep of units that are currently offline.
I support working with our resident partners at Centennial to address their problems in an equitable way.
I support the completion of Burlingame Ranch and addressing remaining issues in completed phases.
We should return to our land use-code the incentive to build employee units in the downtown core. My opponents, perhaps without realizing it, voted for a land-use code that is restrictive and discourages employee units.
The city also should partner with the county to help develop projects within the Urban Growth Boundary and county.
We should utilize financing options like bond issuance to generate funds for new projects.
I also know that there are efficiencies that can be made within the system that can return an estimated 10 to 15 percent of our available unit count.
We must continue to refine our application of the program and maintain our commitment to community housing.
Affordable housing is the foundation of what makes our town a true community. I have actively worked to better our program for 10 years — prior to my election to City Council in 2011. For six years, I served on the Housing Frontiers Group, meeting weekly to twice a month. Our mission was to study the long-term and strategic issues facing the housing program.
We implemented education sessions for the residents and homeowner associations and executed a subsidized capital reserve study for over 20 HOAs.
This work led to productive, ongoing APCHA governance discussions with the county. I also spearheaded the 2012 housing work session, which included the City Council, the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners and the APCHA board, focusing on demand studies, future needs, opportunities and challenges to the program.
Enhancing our vital affordable-housing program has been the most meaningful result of my community service over the past decade.
If elected mayor, affordable-housing will remain my focus. There is more work to be done, including additional outreach to all stakeholders.
As with all the initiatives I lead at the council table, I also will seek the input of my fellow elected leaders and know where they stand, so we can implement, not just discuss, community goals.
Based on my experience and many conversations with a wide variety of stakeholders in the community, my top three goals to produce more affordable housing are:
• Prioritize construction of Burlingame III; we can deliver 80 new units, many of which will be occupied by families. We have the land, we have the design, we have the entitlements and we certainly have the need.
• Update our housing mitigation policies to protect future housing funds.
• Start the long-awaited discussions on developing the BMC West land, purchased before my time on council.
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First-term Aspen Mayor Torre sailed to re-election victory Tuesday with a sound disposal of his sole opponent, Lee Mulcahy, by a 2,039-177 margin, according to unofficial results from the City Clerk’s Office.