Aspen looks to Pitkin County to buck up on affordable housing |

Aspen looks to Pitkin County to buck up on affordable housing

Aspen City Council’s ask to consider fall ballot question dies at commissioner table

Aspen City Council members Rachel Richards, John Doyle, Mayor Torre, Skippy Mesirow and Ward Hauenstein.
Carolyn Sackariason/The Aspen Times

A request by Aspen elected officials for Pitkin County to place a tax question on the November ballot that would be dedicated to affordable housing gained no traction Wednesday at the commissioners’ meeting.

Members of Aspen City Council signed a letter this week urging their counterparts in Pitkin County to put the question to voters and start meaningfully participating in the housing crisis.

Pitkin County Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury shared the letter with her colleagues and they discussed the request during their Wednesday meeting.

Four commissioners, with Francie Jacober not present, agreed for a variety of reasons that this fall is not the right timing.

“I just think this November, and I know the city’s not going to be happy and I apologize for that, but this November would rush it and then we risk losing again, and it would be devastating for us to be able to do anything in the future,” Commissioner Patti Clapper said.

The county’s main funding source for affordable housing is through mitigation dollars received from new growth and that needs to change, said Councilwoman Rachel Richards, who penned the letter and asked her fellow council members to sign it.

“Simply put, the city cannot do it alone,” she said during Monday’s council work session. “The housing program was begun by the county and the county recognized long ago the need for affordable housing and has a legacy of great foresight having preserved Smuggler, Aspen Village, Lazy Glen and Woody Creek neighborhoods but we need that full participation and focus again.”

Richards for the past year has repeatedly beaten the drum that the city — which collects millions of dollars annually through sales and real estate transfer taxes to build affordable housing — shouldn’t be the only governmental entity responsible for housing a workforce that is necessary for a successful resort community.

She pointed to the county’s limited share of funding toward the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, which manages more than 3,000 deed-restricted units in the program.

“APCHA has traditionally been funded based on what the county could afford as part of a 50/50 split,” Richards said. “It’s like ‘we can’t put in more than $400,000,’ and so we would not fund positions that APCHA has needed and that’s part of why it has gotten so far behind.”

She also pointed to several other needs that are pressing that a new tax revenue source could fund, including housing for specifically the senior citizen community, catching up on the shortfall of available rentals and for-sale units, land banking for future projects and partnerships and helping to pay for the incentives needed to tackle known major policy issues like incentives for right-sizing, settling lawsuits, and resolving looming HOA capital reserve and repair shortfalls of aging properties.

She also pointed out that under the county’s health and human services department, it has a duty in supporting the pillars of health that name safe and affordable housing as fundamental to a successful community.

“It really is a plea,” Richards said Wednesday. “This is a crisis and it’s not going to get any better.”

Her letter implores the commissioners to send a notice to the Pitkin County Clerk’s Office by July 29, which is the state deadline, to reserve a place for a potential ballot question in the November election.

“It does not have to be very specific and it is something they could decide not to do,” Richards said during Monday’s meeting. “It’s just kind of asking them to give themselves another couple of months to understand and think about participating seriously.”

The concept of a formal ask through a letter was suggested by McNicholas Kury at an APCHA board meeting earlier this month when a citizen requested that the agency prioritize essential worker status for mechanics, which would give them priority over others in deed-restricted units.

That led the APCHA board to discuss the potential of prioritizing Aspen residents for for-sale units in the third phase of Burlingame Ranch, a city-developed project.

“I understand the county is in a difficult position, but it’s a request to start funding housing more seriously and with more than just mitigation dollars, which I think we all know only partially cover the new employee demand,” Richards told the council Monday. “For both the city and the county that leaves us with a tremendous community and valley-wide shortfall.”

McNicholas Kury at the June 1 APCHA board meeting suggested that Richards and her colleagues write a letter to her board expressing the great need for assistance in affordable housing and how serious they believe the crisis is.

But as she pointed out during Wednesday’s commissioner meeting, the board isn’t in agreement.

“I am totally sympathetic to the urgency,” McNicholas Kury said. “My feeling was when we talked about this in January our board didn’t have consensus, and I don’t think our board is any closer to consensus and I would not want to put a question like this without our board having consensus and the full backing of the board for a tax question, so that is a hazard I see.”


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