Don’t put the puppy to sleep
March 8, 2002
I strongly disagree with The Aspen Times’ support for the city’s proposed dismantling of the housing authority and replacing it with the Aspen City Council.
And I disagree with the further lowering of housing goals as proposed by Councilman Tim Semrau (55 percent) and Mayor Helen Klanderud (50 percent).
The editorial support for dismantling the housing board (or “putting it to sleep,” in the words of Councilman Semrau) is premised on the notions that “housing is a city problem” and that housing 60 percent of the workforce is an arbitrary goal, a “feel good” number.
The 60 percent number was not arbitrary. It reflected the collective decision of 100 citizens participating in the Aspen Area Community Plan in 1993 for many months.
The number represented the proportion of the workforce housed before the second-home luxury boom put local resident housing out of reach for most of us. Those of us on the housing committee felt we should retain the character and vitality of the pre-1987 period when there were enough locals to support shoe stores, two drug stores, two movie theaters and a hardware outlet in downtown Aspen.
The nonprofit and volunteer agencies that make this a great place to live cannot substitute money, no matter how generous the contributions, for human volunteers.
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And no community can thrive indefinitely when the heart of its public service agencies – police, teachers, postal workers – have no permanent connection with the community they serve. The same is true of the private sector workers, from waitpersons to bank officers, who are the primary point of contact for our guests.
Sustaining the community requires a housing program that serves more than the needs of the city of Aspen, one that respects urban growth boundaries and provides help for entry-level workers as well as those able to afford $600,000 “RO” projects. The city paid $125,000 or more for consultants who identified the means to pay for housing that would meet the previously stated goals.
The Aspen Times’ premise that the county should literally not have a seat at the table because it doesn’t “have the money” is likewise flawed. Many of our community’s problems, not just housing, are rooted in the anti-democratic assumption that those lacking in wealth are lacking in talent and should be left out of the decision making process.
Finally, the Times’ claim that public officials disregard the housing authority decisions is at variance with reality. It was the housing authority that suggested the changes in the lottery that give more weight to longtime locals, it was the housing authority that came up with the idea that ownership units should be sent compliance letters and it was the housing authority that asked for and received changes in the Stillwater development plans.
The Times appears to have endorsed Tony Hershey’s claim that the county has no interest in housing and should “get out of the business.” It was the county, not the city, that demanded housing as part of the Highlands and Moore redevelopment plans, it was the county that bought the Pitkin Iron property and turned it over to the private sector, it was the county that created Twin Ridge and Common Ground, and it was the county that protected residents of Lone Pine and Centennial from price gouging and threats of conversion to “free market” pricing.
The reality is that the City of Aspen will see more worker housing lost to second-home conversion than it can build. We have fewer workers living here than we did nine years ago. This trend should not be made worse by setting ever lower goals.
The city rationale for “putting the puppy to sleep” rests in the notion of “efficiency.” Bad decisions can always be made efficiently by ignoring the input of the affected parties and the long-term interests of the community as a whole.
While efficiency is desirable, I do not believe that the decision on whether we should continue down the road to Theme Park status served by a mostly imported workforce should be solely in the hands of city officials elected by a minority of the affected community.
Pitkin County commissioner