Aspen housing officials look to fill deed-restricted units

Hundreds live with empty bedrooms in Aspen’s affordable housing program; government to look for way to fill them

Hundreds of people are living in deed-restricted units within the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority in which they have extra bedrooms that aren’t being used, and officials want to address that sooner than later as the local housing crisis worsens.

“There’s a dire need for housing with vacant bedrooms out there and we’ve been talking about that for a long, long time and that’s just wasted inventory,” Aspen City Councilman Ward Hauenstein said during Monday’s work session.

Assistant City Manager Diane Foster said there’s been recent conversations among APCHA officials about moving up the “right sizing” conversation, but it will be a sticky issue.

Some of the challenges for residents who have lived in their homes for decades are that their incomes have changed and they are making more money than when they first moved in, so they would fall under different income categories, and the prices of units have increased.

The issue came up as APCHA officials presented the most recent data collected through its new HomeTrek software, which tracks who is living in the roughly 3,000 deed-restricted units under the agency’s management.

Bethany Spitz, compliance manager for APCHA, said using the data will help her team do a deep dive into who is living in what underutilized income category units and how they transition to smaller ones.

“It’s going to be a long, interesting conversation I would say trying to figure out how that works and if you need to put in incentives or not,” she said.

A lot of units in which not all the bedrooms are being utilized are owned by people who are close to retirement age and their children have moved out.

Information supplied Monday night to the Aspen City Council on the APCHA housing breakdown.

Some examples of underutilized units are the 126 people who live in a two-bedroom apartment by themselves, or the 57 people living in a three-bedroom unit alone.

There are 120 three-bedroom units in which two people are living there, and 18 two-occupant four-bedroom condos, according to HomeTrek data.

Councilman John Doyle said he supports moving forward with figuring out how to downsize people’s living arrangements in the APCHA system.

“I think that’s a topic to pursue because once again it’s an asset that’s already built,” he said.

Foster said the topic will likely be part of council’s multi-day housing retreat next month.

According to HomeTrek’s data, nearly 53% of APCHA’s inventory consists of ownership units and 43% are rentals, with others not accounted for for various reasons in the HomeTrek system.

Within APCHA’s inventory, there are 1,651 ownership units, housing an estimated 3,222 people, based on affidavit responses by owners to the agency.

There are 1,472 rental units, housing 1,782 residents.

With Aspen’s full-time population of 7,247 based on the 2020 census, 34% live in deed-restricted housing.

According to the latest information collected, there are more high-income category units than low-income ones within APCHA.

Combined, category 1, 2 and 3 units make up 1,275 apartments and condos, and 1,613 units for categories 4, 5 and resident occupied, or RO, which means there is no income limit. ROs account for 901 units.

The majority of people living in APCHA’s units are working, with just under 300 people either retired or not employed.

But those who are between 50 years and 90 years old living in deed-restricted housing represent 60% of all inhabitants in the APCHA inventory and are allowed to stay once they are no longer working and qualified to retire.