Rush to change housing rules hits a slow spot |

Rush to change housing rules hits a slow spot

Sarah S. Chung

The sense of urgency conveyed in the Aspen City Council’s recent passage of new affordable housing guidelines ground to a halt yesterday in front of the Pitkin County commissioners.

After a lengthy work session, the commissioners decided another work session is needed before any action can be taken to adopt the updated guidelines.

“I don’t know that there needs to be a sense of urgency,” said Commissioner Dorothea Farris. “I think we’re pretty uniform in what we want to accomplish and what we’re doing to get to the point where we thoroughly understand any changes.”

Three weeks ago, the City Council narrowly approved the guidelines. The main bone of contention in the council vote was a $425,000 price cap placed on resident-occupied housing. Nevertheless, the council moved forward with a vote because it felt pressed by sentiment that the noncontroversial aspects must quickly be put in place to replace the present guidelines.

That argument didn’t fly with commissioners. In fact, they didn’t even get to the RO issue during yesterday’s discussion.

Commissioners discussed ways to accommodate employees who may have assets higher than the allowed maximum, but who still cannot afford free-market housing. A special review formula could be used to translate some assets into income, so that an individual could qualify for category housing.

Commissioners also discussed the possibility of forming a study group made up of mortgage lenders, appraisers, and other specialists to review whether or not subsidy levels are too high for the housing categories. Commissioner Shellie Harper suggested a sliding scale, so that people who can afford a higher sales price would be subject to a lower subsidy than someone in the same category with less income and assets. Current guidelines only permit 18 to 28 percent of a person’s income to be allotted for housing.

“It seems that subsidy levels keep increasing and my question is, can we build more housing with less subsidy?” Harper asked. “Maybe we could have more product by subsidizing less for people who can afford it, for those people where the subsidy is almost a `gift.'”

The next work session is June 17. After that, a first and second reading of the guidelines is required before a final vote can be taken on the new regulations.

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