Rent option for Aspen retirees in worker housing advances |

Rent option for Aspen retirees in worker housing advances

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Retirees who live in worker housing administered by the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, such as these Benedict Commons condos in Aspen, would be able to rent their unit to a qualified worker for up to six months a year under a program that won initial approval Wednesday from Pitkin County commissioners.

Retirees who live in worker housing managed by the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority should be able to leave for as long as six months a year if they rent their unit to a qualified worker while they’re away, Pitkin County commissioners agreed Wednesday.

The change in the rules won initial approval from commissioners; final action is scheduled for May 22. The Aspen City Council also must approve, as the housing authority is jointly overseen by the two governments.

Currently, owners of housing restricted to local workers can arrange for a one-time leave of absence if their unit is rented to another worker. The change would allow retirees who own worker housing to take off annually for as long as six months if they arranged for another worker to reside in the unit.

With an increasing number of owners continuing to occupy their worker housing after they retire, as is permitted, the new rule could help free up some housing for seasonal workers; they could rent a temporarily vacated unit, according to Tom McCabe, executive director of the housing authority.

“It’s kind of a de facto seasonal housing program,” he said.

When the idea was first broached several years ago, it was dubbed the “Caribbean rotation,” which could be why it didn’t find favor with local officials, McCabe said. The policy change did, however, gain momentum during a discussion involving city and county representatives last fall.

“It became apparent that the number of people who could retire in affordable housing and stay in affordable housing was increasing,” McCabe said. “We’re expecting that a significant number of units will be occupied by retirees.”

Retirement age in the housing program varies, but it’s 65 for many of the complexes, McCabe said. The topic for a future discussion, he said, is tying retirement age in worker housing to the age at which an owner can collect full Social Security benefits — currently 65 or 67, depending on when the individual was born.

The housing authority estimates that there are 180 households within the worker-housing program with at least one member who is 65 or older. Another 188 have someone in the 60-to-64 range, and about 400 other households contain someone who is in their 50s.

Currently, retirees and working residents must reside in their units for at least nine months per year. The new rule would allow retirees to escape for as long as half a year, leaving for the winter or for other purposes — to check out retirement options elsewhere or care for a parent, for example. Their housing would be rented to a working individual during their absence.

A potential downside, housing authority staffers acknowledge, is that retirees will want to leave for the spring and fall offseasons, when there is no particular demand for seasonal worker housing.

The housing office would oversee the terms of the lease, including the rent, and monitor the program’s use, but it would be up to the owner of the residence to work out an arrangement with a renter, McCabe said.

If the program isn’t effective, it can be discontinued easily, he added.