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Pitkin County ready to acquire housing for its own?

Aspen Times Staff Report
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Pitkin County commissioners will be asked Tuesday to move forward with an issue that’s been identified as a top priority by both county government and its employees ” housing.

Rental housing is the proposed initial focus of a plan developed by a group of county administrators. A $3 million first phase could include the purchase of already constructed units ” at the Aspen Skiing Co.’s Keator Grove complex in Carbondale, for example ” and partnering with other entities to develop housing, such as the city of Aspen.

“There are good opportunities for purchasing or developing housing due to the current economic condition of real estate, and any development we undertake will help stimulate our economy,” reads a memo to commissioners.

The county is not in a position to develop housing projects on its own, the memo concludes. The county’s last affordable housing development was Stillwater Ranch, a complex east of Aspen that opened in 2005. Those units were sold via lottery to qualified local workers; no condos were set aside for county employees in particular.

In a recent survey of 187 county employees, 88 percent of the respondents said the cost of housing was an important issue, according to the memo. Last year, 66 percent of 138 surveyed employees indicated they would leave the county’s employment within 10 years and 21 percent predicted they’d depart within five years, leaving the county with the task of recruiting new workers though it currently has no employee housing to offer.

“Affordable housing owned by the county will be vital to attract and maintain a quality workforce,” the memo notes.

Commissioners, who reconfirmed housing as a priority at their recent retreat, have said half of the county’s available housing dollars ” currently about $8 million ” should be evenly split between providing housing specifically for county employees and homes for the community workforce.

On Tuesday, county staffers will be looking for direction on a number of issues: whether a $3 million first phase with the 50-50 split is appropriate, whether the county should focus on housing close to Aspen or less expensive options farther down the valley, whether the purchase of free-market housing is appropriate and whether the county should purchase units outright or finance them.

In addition, commissioners will be asked if they still want to consider increasing the county’s Employee Housing Impact Fee, paid to the county in conjunction with private development, or back off on that intention, given the currently depressed building and real estate industry.

Payment of the fee generated much of the $8 million the county has in its housing fund.

The housing discussion at Tuesday’s work session begins with the impact fee at 10:30 a.m., followed by employee housing at 11 a.m. in the county’s Plaza One meeting room.


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