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Snowmass may tighten rules on worker housing

Sarah S. Chung

Using The Crossings as a springboard, Snowmass Village housing officials are hoping to tighten the town’s “overly generous” housing codes.

“[Crossings’ owners are] selling free-market homes and retiring early,” said Town Manager Gary Suiter during a recent Town Council discussion regarding The Crossings subdivision. “We feel that’s not the purpose of affordable housing and it’s undermining what affordable housing’s all about.”

As early as 1978, Snowmass Village recognized employees needed some assistance to keep a home in the valley’s escalating real estate market. But taking a different route than Aspen or Pitkin County, the town’s income and asset requirements have always been more lenient to prospective buyers of affordable housing.

Since the Snowmass Village housing program does not accept federal assistance or tax credits, the Town Council has been able to set its own parameters on who qualifies. In contrast, the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority receives federal assistance and complies with the stricter federal guidelines.

But as the town’s employee housing stock gets more expensive, and more attractive to employees who may be able to afford free-market homes, housing officials argue that it’s time to re-evaluate the goals and policies of the program.

“My feeling is that the employee housing program should be for people who can’t afford free-market options,” said Housing Director Joe Coffey.

Currently, Snowmass Village allows affordable housing buyers to have incomes of up to 56 percent of the purchase price of a unit. The cap on assets is 136 percent of the unit’s purchase price.

For the most expensive homes in the town’s deed-restricted housing stock, an employee can earn about $250,000 and have assets worth $500,000 and still qualify. In addition, there are 24 homes in The Crossings neighborhood that have no income or asset limitations at all.

Today, the council is scheduled to debate lowering its qualifying income and asset caps, and also determine whether the exempted Crossings homes should be pulled into the housing program’s guidelines.

At last week’s council discussion, Suiter noted that at least three Crossings owners sold free-market homes before moving into the subdivision. The Crossings development is the town’s only deed-restricted, single-family home neighborhood and homes there have resold for as much as $430,000.

According to Coffey, the majority of the town’s worker housing sells for an average of $100,000 to $200,000. But he says current guidelines create an opportunity for employees who may have other options to buy deed-restricted units at the expense of those who don’t.

“The housing program’s not here for people to make a windfall and retire,” Coffey said.

Last week, a majority of council members seemed to favor requiring all future homeowners at The Crossings to comply with housing guidelines. In addition, the council also leaned toward adopting stricter income and asset limitations.

But Coffey concedes that the one other area he feels needs to be addressed in the guidelines will face a tougher fight with the council. Coffey believes the town’s minimum occupancy rule – which allows two people to live in a three- or four-bedroom unit – should be tightened.

In past discussions on the matter, the council has been split on whether the occupancy rules should be revamped to put more workers in the available housing.


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