And if I don’t want to buy?
August 23, 2006
I saw a letter to the editor from Jon Busch the other day, and I thought he made an excellent point – so I figured I’d steal his good idea and rattle on about it myself. (Hey, what are friends for?)Jon (formerly a darn good columnist for The Aspen Times and then the Aspen Daily News … now hanging on as a serial letter-writer) pointed out a problem with our affordable housing program: the lack of rental housing.Jon focused on the proposal for the corner of Park Avenue and Park Circle. That project will start by bulldozing two run-down, beat-up apartment complexes that have a combined total of 25 low-cost rental apartments.The proposed development is, on the face of it, not a bad deal. The existing 25 funky rental units will be replaced with 22 deed-restricted affordable housing units and 15 free-market apartments.(I have to note that I have a direct connection to both existing buildings. I lived in one of those apartment complexes 25 years ago and it was pretty beat up even then. And I know John Werning, who owns the other set of apartments, and I have always thought he was a pretty decent guy.)The problem, as Jon Busch pointed out, is that the spiffy new affordable units will all be sold to local workers. There will be no rental units in the project.Housing director Tom McCabe said that’s the way he likes it. “We go from rental to for sale, which we kind of like to do,” he said. “We like to have people buy into the community.”That’s certainly a good point, but it’s a two-edged sword. When people buy in, they don’t move out – and that means it gets harder for fresh blood to come into the community.It’s part of the graying of Aspen.For sure, one side of that process is wonderful. When I walk around town, I see people I’ve known for years. We were all young and a little crazy when we got here. Crazy or not, we’re not young anymore.It’s great to see those familiar faces. But where are the kids now to replace the kids that we were back then?Thirty years ago, there were all kinds of beat-up rental apartments. They were affordable – if you crammed enough people in them.And, yes, they were beat-up. They were pretty funky, just like the now endangered apartments on Park Avenue. But that just meant you didn’t want to live in one of them for too long … which meant there were always apartments opening up, as people found something just a little more liveable.Searching for an apartment, moving way too often, sleeping on couches or floors from time to time to bridge the gaps – that was all part of the game. And the people who wanted to stay badly enough managed to make it work.As I said, a lot of us are still here.And that means we’ve filled the apartments and we’ve filled the jobs. We got into the housing lottery and eventually bought a place that we’re never going to sell, or we moved downvalley when things there were still affordable.And now there’s no room for the new kids. And I don’t just mean the ones who might eventually stick around. I mean the ones who’d come for a season or a year or two. They were waiters and cooks and artists, hustlers and hard workers. They’d bring new life and new ideas. They’d party hard and ski hard until they just couldn’t stand it any more.Those kids were the life of Aspen. And those kids lived in rental apartments. They couldn’t afford to buy in. Hell, they didn’t want to buy in.Sure. Home ownership is part of The American Dream. But The American Dream and The Aspen Idea are not the same thing. Never have been. Never should be.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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