Aspen housing rule proposal aims to free up space |

Aspen housing rule proposal aims to free up space

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

A proposal aimed at freeing up space in Aspen and Pitkin County’s affordable-housing program for seasonal workers needing short-term rental units is winding its way through the government-approval process.

The proposal would allow a retiree who owns their unit to leave their home for up to six months of the year as long as they lease their home to a qualified local employee. Currently, they are required to live in their home for at least nine months.

The concept received introductory approval from the Aspen City Council on May 13 as well as the Board of County Commissioners on May 8. Commissioners take up the matter again on Wednesday; council members will be asked to give their final blessing at their next regular meeting on May 28, the day after their Monday holiday for Memorial Day.

At last week’s council meeting, Tom McCabe, executive director of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, spoke of the need for more rental units as well as the pros and cons of the proposal.

He said the housing authority doesn’t know how many people who own units will actually retire once they hit retirement age, a big variable in today’s economy since many people continue to work into their 70s.

Those who live in affordable housing and aren’t retired are required to meet a minimum requirement of work hours each year.

“There is no requirement for an individual who retires in APCHA housing to continue to work. So they can live in that housing happily until they pass away or decide to move somewhere else,” McCabe said.

The concept of letting retirees leave their homes to free up space for seasonal workers has been discussed since 2007. Initially, the idea didn’t gain much traction, McCabe said.

“But as time has gone on and the baby-boom workers have started to pass through our housing, we’re seeing more individuals retire in housing, and of course what that means is we can’t house younger workers, active workers,” he said.

Homeowners would have to jump through a few hoops to participate, he said. The list of stipulations would include: a request for a leave of absence through the housing office; ensuring that someone locally would be able to take care of property issues for the renter when the owner is away; and permission from the homeowners’ association if the unit is subject to an association’s rules.

Mayor Mick Ireland questioned whether tenants would respect a property if they knew they would only be living there for six months or less. McCabe said the housing authority examined potential problems related to damages or theft.

“What we’re suggesting is a lease between the owner and the tenant. Just like any other lease, it’s a contract between them,” he said. “APCHA wouldn’t be part of the lease itself.”

The housing authority wants to try the idea and then gather feedback from owners and tenants later, McCabe said. It’s a low-cost, low-risk experiment from the housing authority’s view.

Councilman Steve Skadron asked if the program would lead to a “measurable increase in the number of rental units.” But McCabe said a number is difficult to pinpoint.

“This will be a slow start,” McCabe said. “We won’t see that many taking advantage initially because it does involve jumping through a variety of hoops. Once a person works their way through that — and they get their mind wrapped around the idea they want to go off for three to six — we have a feeling there will be more opportunities and this will grow.”

McCabe added that housing officials don’t think the arrangements will lead to widespread problems involving tenants who break the rules set forth by the owners.

“We don’t think it’s going to be that dramatic,” he said.

While the common perception is that a lot of homeowners leave during the offseasons, McCabe said many older residents prefer to go away during Aspen’s cold and snowy winters.

“So this could help us with our winter housing issue,” he said.

Ireland cast doubt on whether the rule change would be effective but didn’t say he was against it.

“I’m not sure that this will attract a whole lot of use,” he said. “I could be wrong, and the cost of being wrong is not much.”