Basalt eyes revolutionary application of RO housing | AspenTimes.com

Basalt eyes revolutionary application of RO housing

Basalt officials are pondering a revolutionary idea to require all new housing in annexed areas to be reserved exclusively for full-time workers of the area.

Town Council members said Tuesday night they want to study the concept of “resident-occupied housing” further.

RO housing is nothing new to the Roaring Fork Valley. Some Aspen-area housing projects are reserved for full-time, year-round employees, but there are no restrictions on income or assets.

That category of housing is considered a way to preserve a town’s middle class. Sales prices of RO units don’t increase as rapidly as free-market housing because of the limited pool of buyers.

Basalt’s proposal differs because it could require that all new housing built on land annexed into town be RO. The proposal wouldn’t affect redeveloped housing or new housing within the existing town boundaries.

Although no formal vote was taken, council members Dave Reed, Jacque Whitsitt and Anne Freedman expressed support for the idea. Councilman Leroy Duroux expressed reservations. Councilwoman Tracy Bennett didn’t disclose her opinion.

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Mayor Rick Stevens and Councilman Jon Fox-Rubin weren’t at the meeting.

Town manager Tom Baker wrote in a memo to the board that RO housing could help Basalt preserve its middle class.

“Currently Basalt has a strong middle class population, but there is no assurance it is sustainable, especially given real estate price trends over the past decade,” Baker wrote. “RO housing can create supply for the middle class.”

Baker’s memo pointed out advantages and pitfalls of an RO housing program. Advantages include reducing the second-home market and, by doing that, reducing demand for service workers to serve the second homes.

“RO housing can reduce the need for low wage employees,” Baker wrote. “This attacks the affordable housing problem on the demand side of the equation. Currently, all our affordable housing efforts are focused on the supply side of the equation.”

Pitfalls include driving up the price of other housing. If the town accepts only RO housing as it grows, then the existing stock of unrestricted residential units would likely increase in value quicker than if that inventory of dwellings increases as the town grows, Baker wrote.

Another disadvantage is fewer property taxes because RO designation tends to keep prices lower than the free market.

Duroux said he felt creating RO housing would also create unintended consequences. He also believes enforcement would be difficult.

“It sounds like more government to me,” Duroux said.

The only audience member attending the meeting also expressed reservations. Architect Ted Guy said it would strangle the town’s growth.

“Essentially what it does is shut off all annexations,” Guy said.

Developers will choose to build in other jurisdictions where profit margins are higher. That will create extra growth in other towns or counties.

“Growth in this valley is like a balloon – you squeeze it in Basalt and it pops out somewhere else,” Guy said.

Basalt doesn’t plan to act on the proposal any time soon. Baker said the staff wouldn’t be prepared for a major policy discussion on RO housing until late summer at the earliest.

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