Guest commentary: A subsidized retirement community
Thank you for your series on affordable housing. As members of the Next Generation Advisory Commission to the City Council, we’ve seen housing repeatedly be the No. 1 issue troubling our 18- to 40-year-old demographic when surveyed. That should come as no surprise.
What was a surprise was reading some of the disturbing statements made by leading city and county officials in your series. On July 11, Assistant City Manager Barry Crook said that the increasing number of retirees in affordable-housing units was “not much of an issue.” Rachel Richards, a Pitkin County commissioner and respected affordable-housing advocate, also called it a “nonissue.”
However, on July 12, The Aspen Times article cited some sobering retirement statistics facing the workforce housing program. For example, the Strategic Review of Housing projected that 25 affordable-housing units per year would be lost to retirement over the next 10 years and that 250 additional units would be needed to stay even with the supply of workers. The same study estimated that over 20 percent of all workforce housing units in the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority program would be occupied by retirees at the end of 10 years. With an affordable-housing inventory of 3,000 units, that’s 600 units, roughly 1,000 workers!
Then on July 13, in the final story of a three-part series talking about the issue of keeping up with demand, your paper cited data that the county’s population will continue to grow, requiring more affordable housing: “Central Colorado, which includes Pitkin County, is forecast to see its workforce grow from 21,490 in 2010 to 24,209 in 2020.” If our math is correct, that’s nearly a 13 percent increase in the workforce.
Crook admitted in that very same article, “We don’t have the land or the money to build fast enough,” certainly not enough land to keep up with demand.
So the population is continuing to grow, the community can’t keep up with the demand for workforce housing and there will be a lot more retirees in the next five to 10 years, yet it’s a “nonissue”? We, of course, agree that people who have built their lives in this community should have an opportunity to stay, but to call the retirement problem “not much of an issue” or a “nonissue” seems to contradict reality and is a disservice to this community and to future generations. The affordable-housing program was built to house employees working in Pitkin County. Fortunately for some, once they are no longer working, they can remain here. But if we don’t talk about “downsizing with dignity” or at least put the retirement conversation on the table — instead of making it a nonstarter, as Richards and Crook seem to be doing — effectively we are subsidizing a retirement community instead of one that houses employees.
Let’s have a community conversation about what our housing stock looks like and what it should look like. We need movement in the system. Crook himself said we can’t keep up by building, so as representatives of the next generation, we’d like to encourage community dialogue on this topic using progressive thinking instead of calling the entire issue a non-conversation. We owe it to future generations to come.
Christine Benedetti, Kimbo Brown-Schirato and Matt Evans are members of Next Generation Advisory Housing Committee.
It’s almost time to ring in the new year and if your holiday schedule is shaping up to be as packed as mine, I wish you a well-deserved rest in 2024. In the meantime, it’s our chance to party, and party we shall.