Housing survey: It’s worse than we thought
August 8, 2008
ASPEN ” Recent survey results of employers’ needs for affordable housing indicate that the shortage is worse than previously thought by policymakers.
Nearly 75 percent of local employers reported that their ability to recruit and retain employees has gotten more difficult over the past three years because of a lack of affordable housing.
That’s according to preliminary results of a survey conducted by Boulder-based RRC Associates, which was hired by the city of Aspen, the town of Snowmass Village and the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority. The survey, which is not yet complete, will cost $44,500 and comprises four different segments of the community: residents living in affordable housing, local employers, local employees and homeowners.
Survey results applied to total employment in Aspen and Snowmass suggest that 3,475 jobs were difficult to fill and 925 remained unfilled this past year. The numbers were slightly lower during the summer season ” 3,000 jobs were hard to fill and 690 remained unfilled.
Eighty-six percent of employers surveyed feel that the availability of workforce housing in Aspen is the most critical or one of the more serious problems facing the community.
Mayor Mick Ireland said the results are cause for concern, especially considering that aging locals are selling their free-market homes and electing to retire elsewhere. The result is that those homes are being replaced with second homes where no employees are housed.
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“The key is that the workforce itself, outside of affordable housing, is shrinking,” he said. “A good part of workers live in free market but it’s going away.
“Retaining the status quo is going to be difficult.”
Employers report that 23 percent of their year-round staffers and 34 percent of their seasonal workers live in Aspen, which is lower than the 47 percent found from the survey of 575 employees.
Fifty-eight percent of the employees working for responding employers live in free-market housing; 28 percent live in housing provided by the employer and 14 percent live in other employee housing.
The employers surveyed provide a total of 786 employee housing units during the winter, with a total of 1,897 bedrooms. Slightly fewer units are provided during the summer ” 644 units with 1,392 bedrooms.
The majority ” 58 percent ” feel that housing for year-round employees should be the top priority but 38 percent feel that the housing needs of both year-round and seasonal employees should be considered equally. Employers perceive that the lowest-wage workers have the greatest difficult finding housing, according to survey results.
The results likely will be presented with analysis at the end of September and will be used as crucial information in updating the Aspen Area Community Plan, which calls for 60 percent of the workforce to be living in affordable housing. Currently, about 23 percent of locals live in affordable housing, according to officials.
The results of the employer survey also will be used in determining who might be interested in becoming a partner with the city of Aspen in any of its affordable housing development projects, like BMC West, a 4.6-acre parcel near the Aspen Airport Business Center that the city bought for $18.25 million last year.
The fourth component of the survey is being distributed this week to 2,400 homeowners in Aspen and Snowmass. Four-hundred surveys will be delivered directly to homes in the form of door hangers; the other 2,000 will be mailed, according to Melanie Rees, owner of Crested Butte-based Rees Consulting, a subcontractor working with RRC Associates.
The purpose of the homeowner survey is to determine what kind of needs owners require for local workers and how many employees they generate as part of the upkeep on their properties.
The first piece of the survey asked residents of affordable housing ” both renters and owners ” about their experience living in their units, the condition of them, amenities and their retirement plans.
Employees were surveyed as well, asking them if they commute from downvalley communities, whether they live in affordable housing or free market, and their desires of living in Aspen or Snowmass.
“This is a pretty massive survey and pretty widespread in the community,” Rees said, adding the effort began in April.
Rees said the employer survey captured 98 respondents, which included the 10 largest employers in Aspen and Snowmass. The results reflect about 32 percent of all jobs in the two communities.
“There is a lot of good data to quantify and to plan for the future,” she said. “It gives a better sense of the magnitude of the shortage of housing.”
Many employers surveyed indicated that they might be willing to provide more housing assistance than they now offer. Only 27 percent indicated they would not consider offering any kind of affordable housing assistance.
Tom McCabe, executive director of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, said the survey results also will spur a debate about whose responsibility it is to provide affordable housing in the future, recognizing that the public sector can’t build itself out of the problem.
“The government has been picking up the slack for years,” he said.