Council candidates discuss views on affordable housing |

Council candidates discuss views on affordable housing

Aspen Times staff report
Aspen, CO Colorado

With the May 5 election of City Council members, this week The Aspen Times profiles the nine candidates ” Michael Behrendt, Adam Frisch, Derek Johnson, incumbents Jack Johnson and Jackie Kasabach, Jason Lasser, Brian Daniel Speck, Torre and Michael Wampler ” in their own words. The feature will run through Friday. Today’s question: What, if anything, needs to be changed to the city’s affordable housing program?

When we can afford to, we need to expand it. We have some land banked, and there are several large, older, city-owned sites that might work. We have completely neglected the demand/need for rental housing. Those who don’t qualify for the lottery need apartments. Not every valuable and trained person in our town needs or wants to buy or is able to make such a commitment. Efficiencies and one bedrooms are the big demand. A number of privately owned units, negotiated during developments, are almost uninhabitable. The employees have no recourse. We need to inspect these units and enforce the codes and agreements. Finally, we pay too much and get too little for our housing construction.

For the good of the community, Aspen deserves a new strategic plan for affordable housing. To solidify this important community asset, we need to heighten financial responsibility for construction and maintenance and implement a strategy that meets the best long-term interest of all the residents in our community. While quantity is important, we must improve the quality of the entire process: land purchases, design, construction, and inventory management. Finally, with the legacy problems emerging in our 30-year-old program, and the depletion of financial resources due to the economy and wasteful spending, Aspen will need a new way of thinking to fix these issues and ensure they do not occur again.

As a resort-community we should be proud of our employee housing. Because of the success of the now 25-plus-year program we are now facing issues that need to be addressed.

– Capital reserves ” Homeowners and their associations ” not taxpayers ” need to be responsible for adequately funding capital reserves.

– We should have a program that provides incentives for people to voluntarily right size their housing needs.

– Build more? Yes, some day. Right now our housing program is out of money. We need to become fiscally responsible first. I live in and understand affordable housing.

What needs to be changed? Our attitude. The affordable housing program is all we have keeping our families and our characters here ” keeping Aspen Aspen. And our greatest gift to the future. Without question the program has made mistakes since it was invented from nothing 30-plus years ago but not the same mistake ” Aspen makes new ones! (And in all fairness, how could it be otherwise?) The affordable housing program is the envy of every resort (and many communities), the smartest thing we ever did and the best evidence of our collective intelligence. We need more units; let’s build them!

I have been an affordable housing advocate since the ’90s, even though I am fortunate to own in the free market (albeit, first with four other owners and now with one). We must come up with innovative solutions regarding capital reserves for our aging affordable housing stock. Even though the city has no ownership interest in these properties, we do have an interest in protecting them as a very important community asset. It is also time for an extensive policy and organizational review of APCHA. In spite of conscientious efforts by the authority, our guidelines have too many layers and can be reorganized, condensed and clarified, making the system more functional and understandable. I would also recommend community dialogue on the virtues of renting vs. owning.

If you’re fortunate enough to live in affordable housing you know that each association notices that the [budget], design, construction and age of our inventory needs TLC. I’m the president of my homeowners association, I see there’s an opportunity to receive stimulus money, a 30 percent tax rebate, combined with the efforts through public/private partnerships in labor and materials ” we could improve our housing infiltration and insulation weatherization by the end of 2010. Whether you were born here, are single here, have a family, or you’re thinking of retiring to a small one-bedroom ” we have an opportunity to provide a home for the lifelong Aspenite.

The affordable housing program has so many benefits to our community. In many ways other communities are envious of our affordable housing program. We should be proud of what we have accomplished. What would be wise to look at is the motivation and cost of maintaining the older units and keeping them safe and in good shape. Also, there is an issue when someone upgrades their unit that they may or may not qualify for the 10 percent depreciation credit. And lastly, can a community member who has lived in employee housing, when they retire, stay in their unit or even pass it on to their family (if they quality)? These are some questions that need further improvement in the program. We have some challenges because as these projects become more dated they will need more maintenance. I personally believe we could use some more rental units, and I prefer more small clustered units around town rather than large projects. This way there will be an increased vitality in our neighborhoods.

While I do support finishing the Burlingame affordable housing development, I think we need adequate expert oversight. We must also count all housing in our growth numbers. I feel that we need more rental units in our housing inventory. We need to create a better capital reserve for existing units. I am a proponent for using free-market components to carry some of the financial burdens in affordable housing developments. I support a comprehensive long-range plan to target unit types and numbers, potential locations, and public/private partnerships. We should allow more business/organization buy-in to address community needs. For the long-term good of our community we do need more housing opportunities, but we should also set a limit respectful of the valley’s carrying capacity.

Our affordable housing program is still the envy of every resort in our country. That being said, it does have issues and currently is land-rich but cash-poor. We must involve the private sector to help prevent past problems and to partner into the future. When our housing fund gets financially healthy again, maybe it is time to explore purchasing existing affordable housing from those ready to retire with an additional financial incentive above and beyond the price set by the housing authority. This would be less expensive than to build a new unit, keeping in mind that it costs the city approximately $350,000 to subsidize each new unit built, not to mention the carbon footprint.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User