Aspen school district working with prominent developer to acquire more affordable housing
Mark Hunt proposes to convert his Aspen Edge building into teacher housing
As the 2022-23 school year approaches for the Aspen School District, the organization is moving quickly to house more teachers before classes begin.
A new proposal is coming from developer Mark Hunt, who owns a free-market building called the Aspen Edge Condos at 1235 E. Cooper Ave.
He wants to sell or lease eight units in the building to the district and have them be deed-restricted, which is essentially rent controlled or sales priced capped.
The district and Hunt approached city officials about the idea, according to Community Development Director Phillip Supino in a memo to Aspen City Council.
Council will consider the proposal on Tuesday and if it’s approved, it will facilitate the placement of school district staff into units on Cooper Avenue before the start of the school year.
The formal application is for a change in use at another building that Hunt owns at 516 E. Hyman Ave., where he wants to transfer an existing deed restriction from a 400-square-foot studio to a two-bedroom unit at the Aspen Edge building.
It would create additional units for the working class community and generate affordable housing credits for Hunt, as well as the conversion of 400 square feet from deed-restricted residential to commercial in his Hyman Avenue building.
The certificate of affordable housing credits program allows a developer to build affordable housing and get a credit for each unit that comes online. That credit can then be sold to another developer who uses it to fulfill employee mitigation requirements on a separate project.
City staff supports the proposal because it creates seven new deed-restricted units, which is 14 bedrooms, in exchange for the relocation and expansion of an existing deed-restricted unit, according to the memo from Supino.
The school district acquired eight units on Waters Avenue at the beginning of the year and gave a tour of the new apartments earlier this week. Three people already have moved in.
The district issued a press release on Friday touting its efforts thus far and explaining its extraordinary hiring challenges due to teacher shortages and a lack of affordable housing.
As part of the district’s hiring and retention strategy, affordable employee housing opportunities have expanded, representing a 42% increase in supply from a year ago, according to the release.
Earlier in this year, the district and the Aspen Education Association agreed on a new salary schedule with significant pay scale increases, since the average starting pay for a teacher is $50,000.
The new compensation structure coupled with the recently acquired housing stock has enabled the district to nearly complete its recruitment goals for the upcoming school year, according to the release.
The district has hired 35 new staff members, which includes 26 certified teachers and special service providers arriving from in-state, across the country and the Philippines and Japan.
Nine new hires also were made for educational support staff positions, such as paraprofessional, food service and transportation.
Those are mostly local hires with two new members from Australia and Scotland. In addition to the new 35 employees, seven certified positions were filled internally through existing staff transfers, according to district officials.
Recruitment is ongoing for some additional support staff positions and progress is being made every week to fill the remaining openings.
“It’s an understatement to say that these are unprecedented times in the world of education,” said Dr. David Baugh, superintendent of schools, in the press release. “We knew that we had to think and act outside of the box to identify and hire high-caliber teachers and staff to join our existing valued team.
“Much credit goes to our community partners who recognized our pressing needs and made it possible for us to offer attractive new housing options,” he continued. “We are so grateful that they have stepped up to provide us with affordable properties, some even turnkey, in prime locations.”
The addition of 14 bedrooms at the Aspen Edge building will secure the last needed housing to open the schools for this year, according to district officials.
Another major priority in preparation for the new school year entails upgrading campus buildings, pathways and systems, including enhanced safety and security protocols and features.
Indoor and outdoor construction has been underway all summer and while most of the work is nearing completion, there will be ongoing projects due to extended delivery dates and employment challenges, according to the press release. Funding improvements, including energy upgrades and sustainability initiatives, was already in place thanks to the voter-approved bond measure passed in 2020.
“Our board charged Dave Baugh and the administrative team to aggressively recruit and hire top talent for our schools,” Katy Frisch, chair of the district Board of Education, said in a statement. “Never before has there been a tougher time to hire teachers and staff. Our commitment to raising salaries and offering new affordable housing options has enabled us to meet our goals to best serve our kids and the community.”
The approval allows Mark Hunt to remove an employee-housing deed-restriction on a 400-square-foot studio unit he owns and make it a commercial unit.
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