Is the gift of living in Aspen a bad deal? |

Is the gift of living in Aspen a bad deal?

Employee housing in Aspen is probably the best deal those who have it will ever stumble across in their lifetimes. There is little doubt about, and no decent argument against, this.

To wit: If an owner of deed-restricted housing finances the purchase price with a 6 percent mortgage and is allowed to earn 3 percent annual appreciation, over the life of the loan the price increase just about covers the interest expense. After that it’s gravy. Factor in that the mortgage interest and property taxes are deductible against income taxes, and those savings offset a good chunk of the maintenance costs. In other words, the owner of the house is basically living in it for nothing. If you factor in the time value of money (which is a financial concept not suitable for family newspapers and, accordingly, won’t be discussed here), the true cost of living in the heart of one of the greatest places on the entire planet might be a couple hundred bucks per month. Not bad.

Compare this to owning free-market property by contemplating the following two choices:

A) You can live in Aspen in a home worth millions of dollars for as long as you want. All you have to do is pay about $1,500 per month, which, by the way, will be put into a savings account that can be withdrawn whenever you decide to leave. The monthly payment is manageable, and that will allow you to strike a reasonable balance between work and play. All of the money you save on housing expense, you contribute to a retirement account to ensure that you can live out your entire allotment of earthbound days right here in faultless bliss, or

B) You may purchase a similar home at the full free-market price. You will be saddled with debt that you will work your fanny off to keep up with for the next third of your entire life. Your property will continue to appreciate at an average rate of 8.67413 percent compounded annually so that, when you decide to leave this Nirvana and the 50-hour-per-week job that consumed you, the massive wealth in home appreciation will allow you to spend your retirement in Grand Junction, or any other place except here, without a worry in the world.

Which would you choose?

Well, to most of you working stiffs, before exterminating too many precious brain cells that can be better destroyed in colder and more carbonated ways, let me save you the trouble of deciding. There is no choice! Option “B” is not an option at all in this land where median home prices are on the North Maroon Peak side of $4 million. Option “A” is the only option! And only for a very fortunate few!

To summarize up to this point, employee housing provides an incredibly cheap way to live in paradise, and winning the right to occupy it in a highly competitive lottery is practically the only reason many of us are living here today. Owners don’t have to look down the road to get rich from it ” they already are!

So, where’s the beef? It may strike more than a few folks dumb around here that one of the major campaign issues in our upcoming election is over whether we should grant the owners of employee housing even more benefits. I’m one of them, even if only long enough to catch my breath before speaking my mind.

I need to backtrack, though. I used to be one of the ingrates. About a year ago, I debated Mick Ireland on “The Andrew Kole Show” over the this issue and swore up and down that deed-restricted housing owners were getting a raw deal.

With cheeks now red, not from excessive spring sunshine, I would like to tell you that I didn’t know what I was thinking then, but that wouldn’t be entirely true. My arguments were solidly based on principles of finance. But, in applying my economic faculties to compare rates of return, I was simply more focused on what I wasn’t getting instead of on the good fortune that I have.

And this gets to the heart of the matter: The only way that anyone can possibly come to the conclusion that his or her employee housing is a bad deal is by comparing it to what somebody else here has. That’s poison! It is what nourishes the root of community divisiveness. It germinates from the seeds of envy that sprout into dissatisfaction before growing into the nonindigenous noxious weed that strangles the blossom of contentment in this reasonable Garden of Eden facsimile.

With this perspective, the consideration of blowing down more subsidized housing-windfall for people already fortunate enough to posses it will only bolster the billowing sense of entitlement in our town. We cannot prosper as a community if a sizable contingent of citizenry is not ashamed to push forward, as one of our town’s ideals, the willingness to accept great benefits and later argue that those benefits are not enough. It is a microsociety doomed to malcontentedness that hungrily nurses on the ample government bosom and then complains that it doesn’t like the taste of the milk ” after they are full and waiting to be burped!

It might be easy to believe that this issue on increasing the benefits to employee housing owners is isolated in its effects only to those directly affected. I urge those prescribing to this belief to reconsider.

The sense of granted privilege promoted by this political pig roast will build communitywide resentment. How can the givers of a gift not resort to this feeling when they are told that what they have given is not enough? How can the receiver not feel it after the benefactor comes to begrudge him?

The Entrance to Aspen, transportation, construction, infill, even housing itself ” none of these issues can satisfactorily be resolved if the working backbone of this community begins to more look forward to what else it might be able to extract from the community in which it lives, and less to the opportunities for happy living that it has already gained from becoming a part of it. It doesn’t matter if a person is a real estate magnate on Red Mountain or a ski bum in Hunter Creek ” if either moves into this community with an eye for taking instead of giving, we are all the worse for it.

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