Editorial: Rental housing market deserves more attention
December 6, 2013
Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes an expensive resort community to provide its beleaguered work force with greater access to affordable housing.
Over the years, the city of Aspen has done pretty well in this regard. Despite frequent criticism over costs and execution, the city has developed a model work-force housing program, working with the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority and other private and public entities to bring some stability to the area's labor pool. This has been accomplished by building and buying rental units that year-round and seasonal workers can lease and also purchasing land and bearing up-front construction costs for homes and condominium dwellings that workers can purchase and own, albeit on a deed-restricted basis.
Marolt Ranch, with 100 units, offers small apartments for winter-season workers at a moderate price. Truscott Place, which started out as a Red Roof Inn location, adds another 197 rentals to the mix for long-term laborers. The Burlingame Ranch development gives individuals and families a chance to own their homes; the first phase has been fully occupied for the past few years, and some of the units in the second phase are scheduled for those with contracts to move in soon. The city also has worked with private developers, providing them with certain incentives to build affordable housing.
Today, the local economy is on the grow following the Great Recession, and despite the appearance of a plethora of housing options, many workers are finding it difficult to find places to afford, both in Aspen and in downvalley communities. Just ask Sarah Steele, 26, who was featured in the Nov. 29 Aspen Times installment of "Bringing It Home." The St. Regis Aspen Resort spa supervisor recently returned to the community she loves after living abroad, only to find that securing a government- or private-owned rental unit — even in a shared living space with roommates — requires an initial investment of at least $3,000. That's the ballpark minimum cost of paying for the first and last month's rent, plus a security deposit.
And such places — which aren't exactly posh — are hard to find, as evidenced by local newspaper classified sections and the lists that the housing authority makes available to residence-seekers.
Our point is this: The city, in conjunction with the Housing Authority and Pitkin County government, needs to address the rental-housing situation sooner rather than later, perhaps with the same intensity with which it has pursued the homebuyer market. There have been some recent attempts to develop public-private partnerships in this regard, but we find that the problem is reaching the point where a grander solution may be required.
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Allowing retirees who own deed-restricted housing to leave their homes for six months of the year, as long as they lease their home to a qualified local employee, was a step in the right direction approved by the City Council earlier this year. But while that may or may not free up some space for seasonal workers, it really doesn't address the issues facing employees who want to live here year-round.
A healthy resort economy is the city's bread, butter and jam. The sandwich will grow stale if the needs of the work force — including the ability to lease a safe, clean and relatively sizeable rental unit for a decent price — aren't continually addressed. At a recent "summit" involving housing issues, the rental market received scant attention. We want to strongly encourage local governments, in conjunction with the Housing Authority and perhaps private developers, as well, to give this matter a higher priority.
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