Elizabeth Milias: Housing solution for Aspen straight from the NFL playbook | AspenTimes.com
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Elizabeth Milias: Housing solution for Aspen straight from the NFL playbook

Elizabeth Milias
The Red Ant

Twelve years in the making, the BMC Lumberyard and Aspen Mini Storage, purchased with $29 million from Aspen’s housing development fund, are slated to be redeveloped in the none-too-distant future. But before we decide how many units to build on that site and by whom, now is the time to look at subsidized housing differently.

While we continually grapple with determining who actually resides in our existing inventory and if they qualify to live there, one truism endures: We are not efficiently developing or managing our stock in line with our actual needs.

Many decry the perceived lack of subsidized housing for families, places where people can raise kids and dogs, but what we desperately need is employee housing for those who keep the lights on, the lifts running and the pancake griddles hot. This 10-acre parcel across from the airport presents a generational opportunity to address the conundrum of seasonal rental housing while changing the housing dynamic for local employers and service employees alike. Grab your binoculars and focus, it’s the NFL with the solution.

Consider the Permanent Seat License (“PSL”). A PSL grants the bearer the right to purchase season tickets for a particular seat for the term of the license. PSL sales provide the sports franchise with an additional and ongoing revenue stream beyond just ticket sales. Whether it was the Panthers or the Cowboys who did it first, these NFL franchises employed some form of the PSL to fund franchise acquisition and stadium construction. To date, 19 teams in the NFL have utilized PSLs. Applied to the BMC West parcel, the PSL model closes Aspen’s workforce housing financing gap in a way that can actually pencil out in today’s real estate environment.

The PSL concept works particularly well for housing seasonal workers. The leases will run seasonally, November through April and May through October. But local employers, not workers, vie for the units through a lottery. The selected employers pay a fee to license the units they “win.”

The license then enables the employer to offer housing to attract and retain its own seasonal employees. The employer also pays the rent. Workers reimburse their employer for the rent up to the limits set by APCHA. While APCHA continues to qualify employees, it falls to the employers, the license holders, to pay the property’s management costs, and to ensure maintenance and compliance.

Given the ability, albeit at a cost, to offer proprietary seasonal rental housing to prospective employees, show me a local employer who isn’t interested. The actual licensing term and fee must be determined by those with sharper pencils than mine, but the idea is to create a fair market where the value to the employer drives the price of seasonal worker housing, rather than arbitrary rules imposed by a government bureau.

The PSL approach leverages the inherent value for an employer to control and be able to offer housing without the prohibitive cost of purchasing employee housing units.

From an economic perspective, even in the Aspen market, the numbers can now work for seasonal workforce rentals. The revenue stream to pay for the land, construction and ongoing management will, with the PSL model, be comprised of both rent payments and licensing revenue, on an ongoing basis for the development’s useful life. And the model’s short-term seasonal rental nature ensures a revolving door of license renewals according to employer need; a process that keeps compliance in check and provides for the development’s upkeep.

The PSL model additionally lessens APCHA’s burden. Beyond determining the qualification of employees, APCHA has no landlord role. The owner/developer/manager administers the licensing program and collects the fees and rents from the licensed employers. APCHA, of course, caps the unit’s rental rates; this is subsidized housing after all.

With a healthy financial picture, just imagine how the development itself might be enhanced beyond what we’ve come to expect from seasonal rentals. Is that a bowling alley in the basement? Shlomo, maybe this is where your morning-noon-night deli really belongs. Victoria and Aspen Brewing Co., how about outposts?

Utilizing the PSL model, we will no longer scare off seasonal workers with our dearth of short-term rental housing and the social pressure to purchase deed-restricted, hollow-door, plastic-insert-shower pieces of the Aspen dream. With RFTA service aligned to working hours, and perhaps a grocery store as part of the greater development, the PSL model sets the stage for a new kind of Aspen community that harkens back to the days when young wanna-be ski bums came to town seeking nothing but a job with a ski pass and the opportunity to live in Aspen for a season.

What’s old can indeed be new again. PSLs for the score.

The Red Ant has been a source of local political commentary since 2008. Email your comments to TheRedAntEM@comcast.net.


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