Pitkin County, Aspen officials to hash out housing crisis face-to-face

Differences among county, city electeds on their approach to housing to be hashed out during joint meeting

After almost a month of inflammatory statements made among some Aspen and Pitkin County elected officials on the topic of generating affordable housing, commissioners and City Council members will talk out their differences Tuesday evening during a joint meeting.

“The last thing we want to do is create friction and we need to move on and work together,” said Patti Clapper, chair of the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners. “Let’s get past it and move on.”

Comments made by a couple of commissioners at a meeting earlier this month about either not trusting the city with the money it generates for affordable housing, or that the burden should fall on the municipal government to build it, came on the heels of City Council asking the county to consider putting a tax question on the November ballot to establish a permanent funding source.

A majority of commissioners responded to the city’s letter, which asked the county to make affordable housing a priority, by arguing that putting a question to the voters this year would be too rushed and there’s not enough time to build a plan around a new revenue source.

“It’s not that I don’t want to talk about it but needs to be well thought out,” Clapper said.

Tuesday’s meeting is a regularly scheduled one that commissioners and council hold every quarter.

Mayor Torre said he and Clapper had agreed prior to the recent fireworks between the two boards that affordable housing should be the topic of conversation at their upcoming meeting.

Now it’s even more necessary given that emotions are running high, both board chairs agreed.

“After the conversations that have gone on in the last month … it’s time to get this conversation going at the table,” Torre said. “We are hoping to have a fruitful conversation on how to get the county and the city to work together.”

Clapper said a portion of the meeting will focus on the county giving an update on what it’s doing in the way of affordable housing.

“We’ve wanted to talk to (council) about our housing efforts and let them know what we are doing with the limited money we have,” she said, adding the county is looking at partnerships, buy-downs of free-market units and other projects.

The county spends between $2 million and $3 million a year on housing, and that money is generated by impact fees placed on free-market development.

The city generates tens of millions of dollars through real estate transfer and sales taxes, and is a major provider of affordable housing in the valley.

The position of some city officials is that the municipal government can’t carry the load in addressing the housing shortage and other jurisdictions need to step up.

The packet materials for Tuesday’s meeting compiled by the city are supporting documents that show how acute the lack of housing is and how dire the crisis can become in the near future.

One of them is a report by Economic and Planning Systems that was prepared for the city in late 2021, which primarily utilized U.S. Census data, American Community Survey data and Colorado Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages data.

The report shows there was an increase of 1,700 jobs in Pitkin County since 2010, and the top five growing employment sectors accounted for 87% of growth from 2010 to 2019.

Accommodation and food services, arts, recreation and retail accounted for 58% of job growth; the remaining two of the top five contributors were public administration and real estate.

The report noted that the top three sectors of employment growth have jobs that tend to pay lower than the other two.

Many of those incomes are below 85% of area median income, but there also is significant growth occurring in jobs with wages from 85% to 120% of AMI.

Combined, more than 80% of job growth in Pitkin County is occurring for jobs with wages from 50% to 120% of AMI.

In the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority income tier system, those are income categories two and three, which is an annual salary of $65,750 to $100,600 for a one-person household, respectively.

Yet real estate trends and development plans appear to be creating three to four times more housing for household incomes over 120% AMI than for those that are at or below 120% AMI.

“This appears to be opposite what is needed for local workforce housing as we move forward,” according to the EPS report.

The commissioners and council meet at 4 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers on the third floor of City Hall or virtually on Zoom at