Hospital to use windfall for housing? |

Hospital to use windfall for housing?

John Colson
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Aspen Valley Hospital, desperate to find housing for its employees, coupled with an an expected increase in its workforce, is considering putting $1.5 million a year in windfall tax receipts into an “affordable housing fund.”

And the hospital district’s board of directors last week talked with the Pitkin County commissioners about joining forces to solve the mounting housing crisis in the Roaring Fork Valley, perhaps by seeking housing sites outside of Pitkin County where land is less expensive.

Although the county has not officially responded to the idea, and the AVH board itself has taken no formal action, county commission chair Michael Owsley said Friday that the idea of the county and the hospital working together has merit.

“Times are so desperate that we’re looking out to retain our own employees,” he said, referring to public entities such as the county, the hospital, the city and others.

The housing money, according to AVH board member John Jellinek, could come from excess property tax proceeds, a windfall the hospital district anticipates in future years from its 1.5 mils property tax rate, which annually brings in nearly $3 million to the hospital’s coffers.

Jellinek said the district’s property valuation grew this year by around 40 percent, because of rapidly escalating costs for homes and land, which hospital officials estimate could bring in an additional $1.5 million in tax proceeds in the coming years.

The district’s assessed valuation in 2006, according to the Pitkin County Assessor’s Office, was $1.95 billion. The assessed value of the district rose to $2.69 billion in 2007.

Jellinek also noted that the hospital district, which was nearly insolvent only a few years ago, now has “$35 million in the bank” thanks to several years of careful fiscal management.

The idea for the use of the tax proceeds as seed money for a housing fund was broached at a joint meeting of the two boards on Sept. 10.

“From a responsibility standpoint, we have to do this,” said Jellinek about the need to address the employee housing needs of the hospital and other public entities. “It’s the key to our future success. And now that we’re in the position to take a lead role in the community, we’re going to.”

The hospital currently owns about 40 employee housing units, including the former Beaumont lodge on the east side of Aspen and several units near the hospital.

That inventory would need to grow, he said, when the hospital embarks on an improvements and expansion plan that ultimately should result in a modernized, 175,000-square-foot facility. He said that, according to hospital calculations based on the city’s mitigation requirements, that could make the hospital responsible for either building housing for 109 people or handing the city $20 million in “in-lieu” payments.

Owsley said that Pitkin County currently is strapped for cash, but has contributing to housing projects in the recent past, including a $450,000 loan to the Keater Grove project in Carbondale. That project fell through, and the loan will be returned, he said, but the county is looking for other possibilities.

“I’d rather have housing nearby, in the county,” he said. “Who wants more traffic coming up to the roundabout? That’s not working.”

One idea that came out of a recent housing summit in Aspen was the potential for redeveloping existing ground-level parking lots, with the parking tucked underground and some kind of housing built above ground.

“I think all parking lots will be looked at,” he said, mentioning that one potential site is at the AVH/Schultz Health and Human Services complex itself.