Commissioner candidates sound off on housing
June 14, 2012
ASPEN – How Pitkin County might best invest its funds dedicated to worker housing is the focus of today’s question for the four candidates seeking election to the District 4 county commissioner seat.
The Aspen Times has posed a series of questions to the candidates in advance of the June 26 primary. Their answers are being published throughout this week, concluding on Friday.
Two candidates will advance from the primary to November’s general election. Though the candidates must reside within District 4, they are elected at large. Voters throughout the county may cast a vote for any one commissioner candidate on the primary ballot.
Today’s question: “Pitkin County has slightly more than $10 million in accumulated funding for worker housing. How do you feel it would best be spent?”
“I would like to see options for current deed-restricted homeowners to downsize their units if they have empty rooms going unused. Creating an incentive program that would allow for owners to downsize to free up the rooms and stay in the community would allow for younger growing families to enjoy larger homes.
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“I believe there is a need for more rental single-family homes in Pitkin County. There are plenty of apartments and condominiums, but there are not enough single-family homes for rental instead of purchase. Occupancy could be more closely controlled with a rental unit than an ownership unit.”
“As a person who is routinely hired to help communities with their affordable-housing problems, I can honestly say this is a nice problem to have.
“First of all, the worst use for the moneys would be to acquire a million-dollar condo and turn around and sell it for far less to an employee. Heavy subsidies are objectionable to most of us. Capital is the most precious commodity in any financing in today’s difficult times. This money could be used to leverage much more, and apply it to a new project. If borrowing costs are lowered, the product becomes more affordable. If the project is a rental project, the community develops a “cash cow” when it is fully occupied and excesses are usually used to promote more housing. Once the debt is retired the community gets housing that does not need to increase its rents, setting up a long-term affordable project. This has been done many times in many resorts.
Setting up a “soft second” mortgage pool is another use I would favor. By lending a portion of the money to qualified buyers for use as a down payment a borrower can avoid the permanent mortgage insurance part of their financing, allowing them to get into a larger unit or to qualify for the unit in the first place. The county would get the money back, with interest, over time, and the sale and resale market would get a much needed boost.
Lastly, I would not be opposed to creating a public-private partnership with our employers to help ease areas where a shortfall in our inventory may exist.
My family and I live in an Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA) employee unit in Snowmass Village.
The county has recently embarked on exploration of downvalley worker housing opportunities. That list of potential opportunities is intended to enable more development. We seek to invest more of our millions of dollars in more inventory (of some kind) to meet more need (yet to be described). We seem to have no definition of what workforce housing success looks like, so let’s build more?
At the backside of decades of putting roofs over heads we are discovering ceilings over lives and locks on the exits. (Thank you, Milton Friedman.) APCHA seems reluctant to acknowledge that unintended consequences of their workforce housing programs remain their workforce housing responsibility. We should seek that understanding before building more of the same.
Let’s spend some of that money on organizational development to define their mission beyond the vaguely described “to ensure” and describe specific objectives we can explain and achieve, and then fund.
Since good sites for employee housing are limited, I would first try to acquire appropriate sites for future development. One parcel that has possibilities as either housing or new office space is the Zupancis property next to the Courthouse Plaza building. The county should try to purchase this soon, since it is in a prime location next to other county property.
Buying already existing multi-family housing is a second good option, since this is the type of housing with the biggest demand. The county should work with Realtors to try to find appropriate buildings as they become available.
Finally, the county should consider the needs of elderly and retiring residents who wish to stay in the valley. Reserving spots in the soon-to-come continuing care facility in Basalt by helping with up-front costs would be a good investment.