Aspen retirees grateful housing policy lets them stay

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Sara Garton waters plants Thursday at her Midland Park Place home, where she has lived since 1987. She credits the housing authority for letting people retire in their deed-restricted residences.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

Sara Garton benefited from the housing authority’s retirement policy and she couldn’t be happier. She rented residences and worked a variety of jobs after moving to Aspen with her family in 1974. She worked at Aspen Travel, Explore Booksellers and as a worker and manager at Bonnie’s restaurant. She joined The Aspen Times as an editor and writer in the early 1990s.

In 1987, after a divorce, she purchased a one-bedroom unit at Midland Park Place, Aspen’s first affordable-housing project. She was able to remain in her home upon retirement in 2008.

“Pitkin County is a wonderful place to get old,” Garton said. The deed-restricted housing is affordable, the transportation system is excellent, the senior center offers quality programs and reduced passes are available through Aspen Skiing Co. and the Aspen Recreation Center.

“I could never afford this lifestyle anywhere else in the world,” she said.

Garton said she believes retirees are a critical component to the community feel at the 37-unit Midland Park Place, which is home to 64 people.

The condos are a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units. Seven units are occupied by individuals or couples that are fully retired. Another four units have one person retired and a partner still working.

By her count, there are 11 retirees at the complex. They remain active in the community — volunteering as tutors with English in Action, reading at Aspen Elementary School, teaching skiing with Challenge Aspen, patrolling as volunteer rangers with the Forest Service and volunteering at the Aspen Music Festival.

Virtually all of the retired residents also take an interest in their younger neighbors, Garton said. She and another retired woman are “grandmotherly” with the kids of a young family there.

“It’s the way a mixed-age community should work,” she said.

Despite her personal happiness, Garton, who is active in civic issues, said action must be taken to assure that affordable-housing complexes don’t become de facto retirement homes. If there are too many retirees at a site, younger buyers and families might be reluctant to move there, she acknowledged.

She believes the city of Aspen’s housing board and the city-county housing authority must look at ways to create incentives for retirees to downsize, if they so desire. For example, if a retired couple bought a two- or three-bedroom unit when they had children at home, they might want to downsize to a smaller unit. Right now there’s no incentive to do so, other than lower expenses and less cleaning.

The tougher challenge is how to prevent any given affordable housing complex from getting dominated by retirees, Garton acknowledged.


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