Bad market doesn’t mean Aspen housing office sits on laurels |

Bad market doesn’t mean Aspen housing office sits on laurels

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” The local housing office is not expecting much income from first-time sales of deed-restricted homes in 2009, which means overall revenues will be down next year.

But that doesn’t mean the housing office will be idle, or that its operating budget will be down correspondingly.

That and other facts came to light this week when Housing Director Tom McCabe addressed a joint meeting of the Pitkin County Commissioners and the Aspen City Council, which together oversee the housing office’s operations.

The city and county together, however, only contribute jointly to one particular fund of the housing office’s overall budget of nearly $12 million ” the housing administration fund, which accounts for $1.2 million of the total.

McCabe noted that there were no first-time sales of homes in 2008 so far, although nine “mitigated” units are expected to be sold before the year’s end. Mitigation units are those turned over to the housing office by developers, in return for development approvals from local governments, and the office collects fees for the sales to qualified employees.

Compared to past years, when the housing office took in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from housing sales, the $9,000 reported for 2009 in the budget documents made public this week is minimal.

But, according to McCabe’s budget, the housing office expects its sales to rebound, perhaps in 2012, as a result of sales of Burlingame Phase 2 and the BMC West site, two housing projects near the Aspen Business Center.

In those years, his budget projections indicate the housing office will pull in more than a half-million dollars from sales in 2012, and about $900,000 in 2015, assuming the projects are built and sold.

In the intervening years, though, the first-time sales line on the administration budget documents shows “zero,” and the bulk of the housing office’s operating funds for 2009 will come from more than $940,000 in the “beginning fund balance,” or money left over from 2008, management fees of rental properties, sales fees from older housing units and a combined subsidy from the city and county that totals nearly $400,000.

Commissioner Patti Clapper asked McCabe whether, given that the first-time sales are nearly nonexistent, there will be a corresponding decrease in the housing office workload and its operating costs.

“We’re actually going to increase our budget in a negative manner next year,” she said with some dismay, referring to indications that the county’s budget may shrink next year due to a nationwide economic downturn and corresponding reduction in tourism.

The housing budget’s expenses for administration for 2009 are slightly lower than in 2008, $1.19 million compared to $1.2 million.

McCabe, though, said his sales manager will still be busy selling older units, and may be asked to help out with other departments if the sales workload slacks off.

“We have some cross-training on several levels, so we can scramble back and forth as the load shifts,” he explained, telling Clapper that the sales manager may end up helping the compliance enforcement official, whose job it is to see that buyers of and residents in deed-restricted units are following the rules.

The housing office has budgeted roughly $145,000 for its compliance work for 2009, he told the assembled elected officials.

Final approval of the housing office budget will come later in the year, as the city and county separately work on their budgets for 2009.

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