Aspen School District welcomes tenants to first major bond-funded staff housing acquisition
Staff housing work continues into 2022 with plenty of momentum
A few Aspen School District staffers will get to ring in the new year from their new digs at the edge of Aspen’s West End, where several of seven district-owned units located on West Hallam Street near the S-curves are already filling in with their newest residents.
Three of the seven units have already been assigned and the new tenants will be moved in by the new year, according to the district’s housing program manager Elen Woods Mitchell. After winter break, a few of the remaining units will likely be allocated using a lottery system, Woods Mitchell said in an interview.
The district did not want to overcommit units while wrapping up the final closing details on the Hallam property, which is why the units weren’t all allocated at once, according to Woods Mitchell. One ADA-compliant unit likely won’t be part of the forthcoming lottery because staff who need accommodations get priority on that space, she said.
Rents at the Hallam property are $900 per month for the single one-bedroom unit, $1,600 per month for each of a couple two-bedroom units, $2,100 per month for each of a few three-bedroom units and $2,400 for the single four-bedroom unit onsite, Woods Mitchell said.
The district’s acquisition of the Hallam property — which includes seven units in three buildings for $6.6 million — marks what district officials for months have cited as the first major housing acquisition funded by a $114 million bond that’s intended for facilities maintenance and improvements and teacher housing.
“It’s really nice to see something come to fruition so quickly in the bond, so it’s setting a nice example for us for (how we’ll) go forward,” Woods Mitchell said; she considers the acquisition a “feather in their cap” for the Board of Education and district administrators.
The district is now on a roll to acquire more housing. At the last Board of Education meeting of the year on Dec. 15, the school board approved a few contracts that express the intent to purchase eight units — some with four or five bedrooms — on Waters Avenue in Aspen for $5 million and one single-bedroom unit on Lower River Road between Woody Creek and Old Snowmass for $400,000. Those board approvals are for the cost of the properties but don’t actually mean the sales have closed yet.
A handful of other acquisitions are already in the books this year, ranging from developable lots at Stott’s Mill in the midvalley to move-in-ready condos on Main Street in Aspen. The district’s mission to attract and retain employees calls for a “diversified portfolio” of housing options, Woods Mitchell said.
Benevolent sellers are the ones to thank for some of the purchases that have rung in well below market rate, Woods Mitchell said
“The district feels very supported by this community, and it didn’t end with the bond,” Woods Mitchell said. “There are people approaching us, and it is absolutely appreciated. … We are getting approached, and those inquiries are absolutely welcome, and we want to do right by them.”
Each acquisition marks another step toward a goal to nearly double the existing inventory in the next three years and ensure the district is able to offer affordable housing in and around Pitkin County to every full-time employee who wants it by 2036, according to Woods Mitchell’s Dec. 15 housing presentation to the school board.
That may not mean housing every employee on the payroll, though; Woods Mitchell sees the district’s staff housing — entirely composed of rentals — as a “feeder program” into deed-restricted home ownership through the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority and said the district aims to support employees who are ultimately looking to secure housing through an APCHA lottery.
The school district currently houses 26% of its staff in 76 rental units. The district owns and manages 63 of those units and sublets 13 more to help meet staff housing needs while working on acquiring more options.
In the next three years, the aim is to up those stats to house 54% of the staff in 143 units through bond-funded developments, purchases and expansions of existing inventory. But the work of the district’s housing program goes well beyond buying up more units, Woods Mitchell emphasized.
“It’s really exciting, very dynamic. … Things are happening rapidly, but that’s not just purchases,” Woods Mitchell said. “That’s the due diligence efforts, the inspections, the communication with our tenants, the improvements we’re making to our existing units — I mean, we have like multiple things we’re putting equal force to it’s not just acquisitions, so there’s a lot of stamina required right now.”
Next up on the docket? “Research mode and diligence mode,” Woods Mitchell said.
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Spectators can still cheer on Aspen School District athletes so long as they wear a mask and follow current pandemic health and safety protocols, Superintendent David Baugh wrote in a Jan. 18 update on COVID-19 policies and school sports.