RFTA seeks solutions to housing quandary
December 5, 2006
Fearing continued employee shortages, the Roaring Fork Transit Authority has asked Aspen and Pitkin County to give priority to their employees seeking affordable housing units. But public officials weren’t swayed by RFTA’s arguments, and many were uncomfortable with setting a precedent of giving certain employees priority.RFTA Controller John Tangen presented concerns Tuesday to both the City Council and the Board of County Commissioners, but Commissioner Mick Ireland said the county agreed to entertain the request solely to make the community “aware of the extent of the problem.”In a memo to both bodies, Tangen argued that employee shortages could result in service cuts, which could contribute to increased traffic problems in the valley.”Certainly from RFTA’s perspective, it’s a crisis situation,” he told the public officials.RFTA is pursuing both short- and long-term solutions. Long-term solutions include buying new affordable housing units in the upper valley and moving administrative facilities downvalley.But those solutions don’t alleviate the short-term problem, Tangen said, especially with the continuing threat of competition from the oil and gas industry. So RFTA asked for priority “as a bridge from our short term to our long term.”The arguments were not new to the public officials. Housing shortages pose a problem for virtually all valley businesses, many of which are as vital to the community as transportation.”I think the community needs to be aware that this is an emergency issue,” said County Commissioner Patti Clapper. But “I think if we open the door to RFTA now, we’re going to look at … our firemen, our policemen.”Councilwoman Rachel Richards said she didn’t want to set a precedent or to play favorites.”It would be very hard to say the ski patroller is not as important as the sheriff’s officer in terms of saving a guy’s life who’s having a heart attack on the mountain,” she said.Commissioner Jack Hatfield had similar concerns, especially since the discussion included for-sale affordable housing units, not just rentals.”I just can’t do that,” he said. “I’m not going to say that this employee is more important than that employee.”According to housing officials at the meeting, the housing authority does give priority for some for-sale and rental units, but only to a small segment of the population – senior citizens, handicapped residents and emergency-services employees such as dispatchers and other law enforcement.Richards said RFTA needs to find the money in its own budget to secure more housing or increase pay for key positions. The city provides housing for some of its employees, she said, but the funds for those units comes from its own budget, not through priorities with the housing authority. Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud, also uncomfortable with the idea of a precedent-setting policy change, suggested RFTA and any other body “significantly impacted” by housing shortages take their cases to the housing board directly.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.orgThe Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.