Housing crunch in Aspen as bad as many have ever seen
November 15, 2015
Some residents who have lived in the Roaring Fork Valley for several years say they have never seen the affordable-housing situation so bad.
As residents both new and old look for affordable places to live, some are referring to the current housing situation as a crisis.
Former Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland, who studies the local economy and assessor database, said Aspen's growing economy is to blame for the high demand and low supply of affordable housing.
"When the super-wealthy prosper, there is a huge surge in demand for Aspen residential real estate and a consequent jump in employment rate related to the economy and other service jobs," Ireland said. "So as the housing demand goes up, you have a lot of people seeking work to serve that, and there is a pressure to convert the dwindling amount of housing that is not deed-restricted."
With this economic surge, single-family homes are suddenly converted into second homes for visitors, Ireland added.
As an example, Ireland said he and two friends used to rent a small, three-bedroom home on Mcskimming Road in Aspen's West End for $200 per month in the 1980s, which he estimated would be equivalent to about $600 per month today.
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Ireland said the property is now worth millions of dollars, and the house, which is "much larger, nicer and more attractive" than it used to be, serves as a second home to Aspen visitors.
Ireland estimated that people who do not live in Aspen full time own 70 percent of condominiums in town.
"That's an estimate but a pretty good estimate based on where the tax bill goes," Ireland said.
Aspen Skiing Co. has a housing system for its employees and cannot offer housing right now. The company's housing program has had a waiting list "for a while," Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said.
Hanle said the list filled up more quickly this year than last.
"We've been seeing it getting tighter and tighter each year," Hanle said.
Skico has about 605 beds for its employees — 414 between Snowmass and Aspen and 191 downvalley. The company divides its beds among its divisions — mountain operations, hospitality, etc. — across its four mountains. Hanle said the beds are allocated based on both the size and varying needs of the division.
"We're working to find more if we can, but there's limited resources out there," Hanle said.
Chris Johnson, who owns a business in Aspen, says he is once again looking for a place to live.
In the past, Johnson said his search has led to couch-surfing and "sour" random roommate situations.
"It's just not realistic for people who actually work here," Johnson said, adding that he was even homeless for some time.
But it's not just young people who are affected by Aspen's lack of affordable housing.
Aspen and Snowmass' "housing crisis," as Skyler Lomahaftewa describes it, presents a number of challenges for families in the valley, as well.
Lomahaftewa, his wife, Stevie, and her two teenagers live in a rented apartment in the Aspen Business Center that recently sold.
The family must find a place to live as soon as possible, Lomahaftewa said, but "housing is very scarce both location- and affordability-wise."
Lomahaftewa said the family hopes to find a place within the Aspen School District, where the children have attended school for the past few years.
However, he said the price for rental units has increased significantly compared with previous years.
What's most troubling is that both Lomahaftewa's and Stevie's employers — Skico and Aspen Valley Hospital, respectively — are among the small handful of businesses in the valley that offers their employees housing.
But not even the limited number of employers with housing programs can guarantee housing for their employees, as both Lomahaftewa and Hanle prove.
"In my opinion, this is the worst affordable-housing crisis here in the Aspen-Snowmass area since I moved here nine years ago," Lomahaftewa said.
It's one thing to jump around from place to place when you're in your 20s or even 30s, area resident Stanton Moore said.
"It's another when you're a father in your 40s. … I'm a grown, 43-year-old man with a kid, and finding affordable housing in the valley is next to impossible," he said.
Like many locals, Moore said the current housing situation, which he calls disgusting, is the worst he's seen in his eight years in the valley.