A critical housing goal is within our grasp
“Work force percentages” and “affordable housing target unit counts” may sound like stale statistics, but it’s not hard to assign faces to these numbers. Faces of all kinds fill the houses, apartments and condominiums built over the last 25 years as part of the local affordable housing program.
Picture all those parents and children on a never-ending scramble between school, work, ski club, soccer practice, music lessons and home at Centennial. Think about all those young 20-somethings who have stayed in Hunter Creek for a season or a year. Imagine the joy of that longtime local who finally wins a “unit” (a home, really) in the housing lottery.
One statistic that came to light recently represents hundreds of local faces, and here it is: The community has nearly reached its goal, set in the 2000 Aspen Area Community Plan, of building 995 new affordable housing units. If all the housing currently under construction or approved for construction gets built, then the goal will be reached in a few years.
This is a victory that the entire community can take pride in.
Still, we must remain vigilant in order to reach the goal, and remain aware that new ones will need to be set.
First, a misguided effort is afoot to derail the Burlingame Ranch project, which has been approved by voters and the Aspen City Council. The plan for more than 300 housing units behind the Maroon Creek Club is vital to the housing program and the resort’s future. If the Burlingame opponents prevail, there will be 330 fewer choices for Aspen’s working class, which already has fewer housing options than ever before.
Second, the supply of new publicly and privately built affordable housing is not keeping up with the loss of cheap apartments, cabins and rental homes. Most of those free-market options are being converted into high-end residences that sit vacant most of the year. According to a recent study, 73 percent of Pitkin County’s work force actually lived here in 1985; today the percentage has dropped to 44 percent.
Our once-pristine valley and its people are significantly worse off because so many now drive an hour or more each day to get to work and back.
Building more housing is the responsible thing to do, both environmentally and socially. It has helped keep this place a community, and not just a resort. It makes Aspen and Pitkin County a better place to live and to visit.
So once we’ve reached the 2000 housing goal, we should revisit the issue and set new housing goals accordingly.
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A driver looking to squeeze one last four-wheel drive up Aspen Mountain discovered that it’s not the ascent but the descent that poses a challenge.