Beaton: Public Radio’s incomplete story on Aspen’s taxpayer-subsidized housing
The Aspen Beat
Taxpayer-subsidized Colorado Public Radio likes taxpayer subsidies. I know from personal experience that they even like Aspen’s taxpayer-subsidized housing program, where residents making as much as $186,000 receive million-dollar houses for dimes on the dollar.
Here’s the background. One of Colorado Public Radio’s reporters contacted me a few weeks ago, saying he’d seen my columns on the problem-plagued program. He wanted to talk more and asked to have a telephone conversation. I agreed, and we did.
In our short conversation, I mentioned some of the problems. He said he planned to visit Aspen to investigate a story and would like to meet with me to talk more. Again I agreed, and we left it that he would call me when he arrived. He never did.
His story was broadcast on Colorado Public Radio last week, is reproduced on its website and was circulated on social media. The gist of his story is that the taxpayer-subsidized housing program is a success but needs more taxpayer money for more houses for more young people because the existing residents are aging and never move out. (Why would they?) The article concluded that the program will become a taxpayer-subsidized retirement home unless the taxpayers cough up even more money.
That’s all true. But the CPR piece failed to mention many other problems that I touched on in my conversation with the reporter and would have detailed in our follow-up conversation.
I left a comment on the CPR website detailing some of those other problems. For the benefit of my readers, and perhaps his listeners, I’ll restate them here:
“First, the one thing that Aspen residents agree on is that we need to limit the growth of the town. So why would we spend taxpayer money to entice people here with million-dollar houses?”
The article contends that this is necessary because Aspen workers who don’t live in town spend “hours a day commuting in their cars.” In point of fact, however, the commute from Basalt (a very nice town, even though it’s not Aspen) is about 25 minutes each way — which is about the average commute in America.
That drive from Basalt is through the scenic Roaring Fork Valley, not the commute over Interstate 25 in rush hour that Denver commuters routinely endure.
Alternatively, the bus from Basalt runs every 15 minutes. The bus stations are more like bus mansions. They’re built of native stone with heated enclosures that cost $250,000 each. (No, that’s not a typo.) The buses themselves are equipped with free Wi-Fi.
Residents of the taxpayer-subsidized housing notoriously fail to maintain them. That’s because there’s no incentive to do so. When they sell, after all, they get the same price set by the housing office regardless of whether the house is in perfect condition or falling down.
In fact, the city has determined that the homeowners’ association reserves are only 22 percent of what’s necessary. The HOAs are now asking the city to make up the difference with additional taxpayer money.
For example, the residents of one project are threatening to sue the city because the taxpayer-subsidized stain on their taxpayer-subsidized decks is fading. In another instance, a resident is complaining to the City Council that the sound insulation is defective because she hears her neighbor.
The $186,000 income cutoff for the program conveniently includes every city employee, top to bottom. And indeed, lots of city employees live there. A few years ago, four out of the five city council members lived there — including the mayor.
Fraud is rampant. Residents often rent out their subsidized units at market rates for holidays — they can realize a five-figure windfall for Christmas week alone — and sometimes even beyond that. Many retirees have undisclosed nest eggs far over the maximum allowed. (Although tax returns are required to verify income, no proof is required to verify assets; there are no audits.)
Although the program was supposed to encourage “diversity” in Aspen, virtually none of the residents are racial minorities even though a large percentage of the service workers in Aspen are Hispanic. Instead, the winners of the lottery that picks new residents are typically white, upper-middle-class city bureaucrats and other insiders who know how to game the system.
In one recent example, the city allowed a city employee to bypass the lottery on the grounds of a medical hardship. The “hardship” was that the person’s wife gets migraine headaches.
The program has enabled local companies to keep wages artificially low. So the real beneficiaries are not the workers — other than the privileged few who win the lottery each year — but their employers. In short, taxpayer subsidies for the lottery winners enable the big ski company to keep wages low for everyone.
As Paul Harvey used to say, now you know the rest of the story.
Correspond at theAspenbeat@gmail.com. Follow on Twitter and Facebook.
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