Should affordable housing program pay its own way?

Eben Harrell

A proposal to increase the sales fee on affordable housing in and around Aspen was met with skepticism yesterday during a joint meeting of the Board of Pitkin County Commissioners and Aspen City Council.The city and county share an affordable housing program that has for years run at a loss. The two governments have traditionally split a subsidy to support the housing office to the tune of between $100,000 and $400,00 per year, according to city of Aspen finance director Paul Menter. Yesterday it was proposed that the housing office should raise its sales fee, a de facto commission on the sales of deed-restricted property, from 1 to 2 percent to 3.5 percent. The sales fee is the primary source of revenue for the housing department. City and county officials were not impressed.”This fee is essentially a tax without a vote,” commissioner Shellie Roy said.”We’re building Burlingame village and with all those $300,000 units, the idea of [3.5 percent fees and] $10,000 for all of them concerns me,” councilwoman Rachel Richards said.City and county officials learned that the existing fee pays for the housing department’s sales costs – open houses, staff hours, etc. It is the rental side of operations that creates a deficit. But Mayor Helen Klanderud said the city doesn’t want to raise rent for its property.”The cash cow is in the sales units, not the rental units,” Klanderud said. “But we have an obligation to both.””We subsidize almost every other government department that offers a service,” commissioner Mick Ireland said. “It’s strange to say that housing has to pay its own way.”Housing department officials said they would like to find other ways to increase revenue, but that sales fees and subsidies are the only available options. “This is a philosophical question of whether this is a program we should subsidize or if we should expect it to pay for itself,” housing department spokeswoman Sandra Menter-Berry said.Commissioners and council members agreed to table further discussion until Sept. 14.Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is