Elizabeth Milias: Dear John and Ward …
The Red Ant
Congratulations, guys. Your recent election and re-election to Aspen City Council were overwhelming mandates. No one expected both seats to be filled in the first round, but it wasn’t even close. The two of you left the other six candidates in the dust.
According to this paper, your combined 84 years of living in Aspen distinctly set you apart, and Ward believes that this was a strong signal of support for “the old guard.” But just what does that mean exactly? Promises of more analysis paralysis from Ward on every subject before the board and John’s commitment to more focus on the battle against climate change signal priorities that are nice and all, but really don’t accomplish much toward the major issues and decisions facing the community. Like subsidized housing. Here are some suggestions:
Get a grip on subsidized housing. Every candidate ran on some form of “we need more housing.” Do we? The tired ideology that the only way to address our perceived housing shortage is to build more needs a serious look. Ought we not properly manage the housing inventory we have before building more? It seems pretty obvious. Specifically, in coming years, we have 496 units comprised of 787 bedrooms that are set to disappear due to expiring deed restrictions. It is impossible to replace this inventory once it’s gone, so how about fixing this first? We also need to resolve the terrible HOA reserves situation where much of our housing inventory is underfunded in terms of long-overdue maintenance and repairs. Why should the community shell out millions of dollars for new housing when no one seems to care about properly taking care of what we already have? And did you know we still have no idea how many people occupy our existing housing units because APCHA’s bi-annual affidavits have never asked? Imagine that; to this point in time, we have never bothered to find out how many people physically live in our publicly subsidized housing. It’s actually beyond irresponsible.
Activate the HomeTrek database. This housing management platform cost us millions but has yet to come online for public use as designed. Think of it as buying the Ferrari but never shifting out of first gear. Why? It was promised as a publicly accessible and comprehensive database, not unlike the mere seconds it takes to research a property through the county assessor. What is APCHA hiding? And what is the status of a system-wide census? Without one, we are merely continuing to collect shoddy data that will never tell us what we have and who lives there, yet alone what we might still need. Combined with a history of little to no rules enforcement, this leaves our 3,100-unit housing portfolio in the dark ages.
Slow down at the Lumberyard. The Aspen way is always to build, and the Lumberyard parcel is our last opportunity for a large, close-in subsidized housing development. But please consider a comprehensive needs assessment before moving forward. A needs assessment is distinctly not a public query of everyone in town who wants subsidized housing. That’s a wants study. Not the same thing. We regularly lament the lack of “workforce housing,” citing the need to provide units for critical workers and to relieve them of horrendous daily commutes on Highway 82. There is also infinite demand for “community housing.” Single-family homes, please, and not too much density. Until we determine who we will be building any new housing for, we cannot possibly design the project. Workforce housing and community housing are two completely different animals. The city manager recently told council to “put on your developer hats” when making plans for the Lumberyard. I hate to break it to you, but you are elected officials, not developers. Take off those hats and keep them off. Right now, design and development discussions are putting the cart way before the horse. This is no way to run a railroad. And certainly not a housing program.
And while you commission study after study, how about striving for a public-private partnership to fund any and all future housing development? I know, thinking about where to get the hundreds of millions needed for this enormous undertaking raises some thorny issues, but someone has to pay for it. Lame duck councilwoman Ann Mullins doesn’t think an outside developer should be the project architect and builder, just the financier. Good thing she’s off council because that’s exactly what we need. A partner who builds housing for a living knows far better than City Hall and elected officials with zero development experience how to finance and deliver large scale community assets. With any luck, they may also know how to manage them.
I know you have your pet projects and priorities, and with your wins, those deserve to be heard. But please, remember that you represent all of us now, and since the city of Aspen is the among the area’s largest developers these days, we are counting on you to be accountable and responsible in your stewardship of our community assets and taxpayer dollars. There’s a lot of work to be done.
The city has an abysmal track record when it comes to development, yet most solutions coming out of City Hall are to build our way out of problems. Contact TheRedAntEM@comcast.net.
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