Elizabeth Milias: Aspen’s latest emergency ordinances first shot in class warfare
The Red Ant
The opening salvo in Aspen’s class warfare has just been fired. And it’s weaponized. The fragile tinderbox of private property owners and those benefiting (or aspiring to) from publicly subsidized housing was deliberately ignited last week when City Council enacted an emergency ordinance that immediately put new residential development and new short term rental (STR) licenses on ice until June 2022.
Described as an effort to “pause” and ascertain what city officials characterize as an explosion of the free-market real estate market and its effects on the community and the environment, and “get a grip” on how to regulate the STR industry that generated $50 million in taxable revenue from January-September 2020, the ordinance reasons that with unprecedented increases in home prices and lack of supply over time, the residential real estate market no longer delivers meaningful or affordable housing for local residents. How conveniently they ignore the 1% RETT that continually fills the subsidized housing coffers to unprecedented levels; all the more to throw at a program fraught with under-utilization, non-compliance and fraud. This manufactured crisis has nothing to do with STRs or free-market residential development. The entire issue is about two new funding sources for subsidized housing. The city of Aspen is projecting its failure to efficiently and effectively manage its 3,000-unit housing portfolio onto the private real estate market.
The entire premise of the ordinance is flawed. It states, “The city depends on a lived-in community of year-round locals to support community culture, provide labor and capital to support the local economy and ensure the long-term viability of Aspen and its tourism economy.” This upside-down logic is loaded with bitterness and class envy that attempts to shift the blame for any housing crisis away from the local government when it is absolutely at fault. For years, Aspen has been moving away from forward-thinking growth management policies, and instead inciting class warfare while amassing failed virtue-signaling initiatives (hydro plant, geothermal drilling, mobility lab). With lack of diverse thought and a groupthink mentality, instead of looking at real trends (STRs, aging demographics, an urban exodus), Aspen’s answer is to regulate and tax to build more housing.
With over 4,000 subsidized housing bedrooms inside the city limits and a year-round population of 7,294, we currently have the capacity to house 56% of the local population in their own bedrooms. However, there are nearly 400 empty bedrooms, and almost 1,000 owners are retired or will be soon. This is the emergency. Furthermore, Aspen is nearly built out, and our population and jobs numbers aren’t increasing. Are we really going to build for the unlimited demand of people who simply want to live affordably in Aspen? Until there is the political will to completely overhaul APCHA, the city will continue to extort untold sums from the private sector and still never have the competency to fix this “problem” of their own making.
The propaganda that redevelopment is “growth” and therefore housing mitigation fees must dramatically increase to account for “displaced” workers is a canard: it’s actually just new square feet replacing old square feet. Paying mitigation for redevelopment is simply punitive. Such activity does not generate workers, it provides jobs. The great irony is that the development of subsidized housing with these ill-gotten gains is actual growth, as it increases the capacity of the community. The disdain for STRs also stems from “displacing locals,” but this is another distraction; none of these properties were ever going to be rented to local workers.
Our electeds also confuse “economic activity” with “growth.” There is no data to even support a “growth” issue here. Pitkin County’s population has only grown by 207 people (1.2%) in 10 years, according to the 2020 census. The number of housing units has only grown by 292 (2.3%) in the same time period. And the largest decrease in jobs over the past five years has been in construction employment. (Public administration is responsible for the largest job growth, but I digress.) There has certainly been tremendous “economic activity,” and that’s a nationwide trend, but to call this activity “growth” is disingenuous, alarmist and contrary to the facts.
“More subsidized housing” has great political expediency in Aspen. Last week’s assault was socially engineered to limit and regulate private property, and control how it can be used and by whom. The ordinance creates the perverse incentive to leave one’s private property vacant through the force of a punitive regulation that disallows STRs, yet sets the government up to further punish these same property owners with an occupancy tax when the property is inevitably empty. The local government sees no issue with collecting ongoing revenue streams from private property, while prohibiting property owners from deriving a cent that in many cases pays the mortgage and other bills.
This attempt to control the free market through regulation is strictly intended to generate more subsidized housing ad infinitum, when the only thing currently displacing working locals is our failed housing program that permits empty bedrooms and enables non-workers to retire in units originally intended for the actual workforce.
To be continued.
Remember when they divided Dr. Zhivago’s house into tenements? Local Bolsheviks Skippy, Rachel, Ward, John and Torre are likely eyeing your home for their cabals of dissidents once you’ve been run out of town. Want to get involved? Contact TheRedAntEM@comcast.net
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