Change in sheep’s clothing
The other night I woke up and had a hard time falling back to sleep. Rather than wasting time, I decided to multi-task by counting sheep while cleaning up the affordable housing mess in Aspen. I thought, if nothing else, that would result in decent slumber.In this place of abundant money and limited land, the first thing to do was identify the problems with our current employee housing. The first sheep that jumped over the fence in the little cloud above my head was named Lack of Decent Appreciation. Current rules give owners a measly 3 percent return on their investment. Aspen deed restricted housing is losing ground to free market pigsties in Greeley. Workers share in virtually none of the overall market appreciation that they help to create around here and literally lose ground toward building a future. The second sheep out of the corral was called The Lottery System. It trots around, picking people at random for the next available housing units. It disrupts lives, leaves people with little opportunity to plan for the future, and is pretty much depressing for most people who go through the process, time and time again.Then, a fat sheep that couldn’t even jump almost got lodged between two rails of the imaginary fence. It was The Lack of Opportunity for Employers. Business owners have virtually no chance to participate in helping their valued employees find suitable living quarters and long-term security.Two sheep, which I nearly mistook for hogs, wallowed by so quietly that I almost missed counting them. They were Construction and Sprawl. We just can’t keep feeding these monsters. At some point we have to realize that it is folly to keep building a product for which demand can never be satiated. Another sheep followed quickly after. It was Segregation. Employee housing creates it. Workers live here and everybody else lives there. Some folks believe that this is the very root of class envy in town. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were all a little more mixed up? Well … you know what I mean.Finally, just as my eyelids were getting heavy, the last of the sheep stampeded right through the fence and made such a commotion that I was startled bolt upright. These were big furry beasts. Their scraggly wool hung over my eyes and they scared me nearly senseless. They needed shearing, and quickly. They went by the names of Rules, Regulations, and Bureaucracy! Wide awake by this time, I started scribbling notes:1. What if, after 10 years or so, an employee was allowed to remove his deed restriction by paying the difference between appraised free-market value and the restricted value of his home into an employee housing fund?A person who has lived in his unit for 10 years is probably here for the long haul. The unit is out of circulation. Deed-restricted or not, it’s not doing anybody else any good. The money put back into the system could help the next person.Don’t worry too much about creating instant millionaires, either. The density, size, and quality of employee housing projects will keep prices relatively low. 2. With the money from these conversions, the Housing Authority could set up a fund used to form partnerships with qualified Pitkin County employees looking for housing assistance. The idea is to have the employee identify a free-market unit to buy for which hr can finance a third of the cost. The Housing Authority partners with this person and buys the other two-thirds of the property. When the unit is eventually sold, the proceeds (i.e. big gains) are split up proportionally. Everyone, including the Housing Authority, realizes actual Aspen appreciation. It’s not a subsidy, it’s an investment! 3. Employees will be living in condominiums throughout town, in real buildings along with the free-market, fee-simple citizens of Aspen.4. There will be incentive for people to take care of their homes and protect their investments. This concept is completely lacking in the current system of fixed selling prices. 5. We don’t have to build any more housing. Employees will be purchasing existing, free-market homes. We can put the largest developer in Pitkin County, the Housing Authority, out of business! 6. We can include employers in the partnerships. They could voluntarily up the ante and buy into the partnership to aid their valuable employees. They too, would share proportionally in property appreciation. The housing supplement becomes part of the compensation package. Employers could pay lower cash salaries to key employees. They would effectively be investing in Aspen real estate rather than dripping away their profits on higher wages. That doesn’t sound bad.Let’s see, say an employee puts in $300,000, the Housing Authority puts in $600,000, and the employer kicks in $200,000. That’s more than a million bucks! There are plenty of free-market condos and even a few houses in Pitkin County that could be purchased for that. It’s almost enough to buy into The North Forty project!7. We could eliminate housing lotteries! This new system is based strictly on a first-come, first-serve basis. The minute you come to town, you put your name on the list. You can track your progress and make good estimates as to when it will be your turn to buy a unit.Even if you have to wait a few years for your chance, at least you will have a time certain and can begin looking for a suitable place while making plans for the future. There is hope!8. We can abolish a sizable chunk of bureaucracy. This plan eliminates categories, earnings limits, asset caps, family size requirements, finger printing, and background checks. The only requirements are that you work in Pitkin County and you finance a third of the cost. Your financial history is only your and the bank’s business. 9. And…Oops! I better stop there. With all this noise, I might wake someone up. Zzzzzz…Roger Marolt believes that if it ain’t fixed you might have to break it. He’s starting over at firstname.lastname@example.org
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For those of you who follow my monthly missives, and occasionally read between the lines, you may have noticed a trend toward a bit of cognitive dissonance and some internal conflict on my part.