Housing board ready to seek help from the private sector
The housing board is prepared to give the private sector a much larger role in future affordable housing projects, starting with a competitive design process for two upcoming developments.
At Wednesday night’s housing board meeting, the board gave a ringing endorsement to design competitions for projects on Bass Park and the Forest Service parcel at the entrance to Aspen.
“Yes, anything we do will get picked apart. So if it’s going to be torn apart, we might as well start with the best design possible,” said housing board member Mick Ireland, a Pitkin County commissioner.
Since both sites are not ones that can be put into the approval process immediately, board members want to “throw open the doors” and see what comes in instead of taking the usual design routes.
And at least one official involved in project reviews believes the concept is one that has been a long time coming.
“When things are done in-house or traditionally, you get some low common denominators. If there’s a design competition, you get some stimulation,” said Tim Mooney, a member of the Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission. “With a design competition, you don’t have the same set of architects constantly reworking one design.”
One factor that convinced housing board members to court the private sector earlier in the process is the difference in cost per square foot between affordable housing projects built recently by the private sector vs. the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority.
Consultant Kathy McCormick, in a report to the board, offered a cost analysis for five projects – three built under the auspices of the Housing Authority and two built by private developers.
“The public ones were completed in ’94 and ’95 and the private ones in ’97 and ’99, but the private projects are still lower that the government projects finished years before,” noted housing board member Cari Britton. “Considering that costs have skyrocketed, I think that’s saying quite a lot.”
Snyder Ponds, nearing completion on the east side, was not included in the comparison because the final costs of the publicly built project have not been determined, explained Housing Director Mary Roberts.
But board member Tim Semrau estimated the final cost per square foot for Snyder at $326. Given that figure, Semrau argued the cost benefit and a possibility of adding greater density to projects through “extraordinary design” are two compelling reasons to give the private sector a freer hand and greater role in future housing authority projects.
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