Giving Thought: Housing crisis impacts in real time

Allison Alexander
Giving Thought

Talk of the housing crisis in our region has been filling headlines, letters to the editor, and conversations around town for years. While the pandemic accelerated the issues our region faces, they are not new.

Even mentioning housing has a tendency to raise tensions and the solutions offered are never universally accepted. Solutions that might work incredibly well in other locales can fall flat here simply because we are blessed to have such a unique place to call home.

While solutions should be explored and creativity should be tapped into, the great housing debate has real-time impacts on the lives of children and families that are important to examine and understand as a community in the meantime.

Last week, Bloomberg ran an article highlighting the increase in executive-level remote workers relocating to Aspen. This influx of residents has led to increased demand for services while simultaneously shrinking the available housing needed for the workers needed to serve a growing year-round community.

The article mistakenly stated that workers and locals are being “pushed down valley to more-affordable towns” and stated these towns are an hour away.

In reality, many employees who work to keep Aspen’s services running commute over an hour and a half each way from places like Parachute and Silt, which are not all connected by the bus line. It is not uncommon for workers in Aspen to spend over 15 hours a week traveling to work as rents have continued to rise.

One must travel over 60 miles outside of Aspen to find two-bedroom housing for a family under $2,500 a month. This cost is often more than the amount a worker would be able to earn in these towns making commutes to Aspen necessary to afford housing.

The combination of financial strain and burdensome commute creates stress and instability for families, especially those with children. More and more children in our region are facing housing insecurity and parents are struggling to continue to make life in the valley possible for their families.

Amanda Vaughn, Family Resource Center coordinator for Garfield RE-2 School District, shared that the rising cost of living and housing instability is creating tremendous stress for the students in her district. Garfield County RE-2 District, which runs public schools in New Castle, Silt and Rifle (all well over an hour commute to and from Aspen), has seen a rise in houselessness in their student population.

The Family Resource Center acts as a resource to help support struggling families in times of crisis and need.

“Our goal is to serve as one door for families. One door to walk through and have needs met and connections to resources made because these families are limited on the amount of time they have to get what they need because of where they live and work,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn noted the district is seeing a rise in the number of students losing stable housing, which is impacting their ability to learn because of anxiety. Recently, a first grader who was referred to the resource center told her they were worried about where they would be sleeping each night and how their family would be able to pay for their school supplies. The needs of these students and families are layered and impairing student’s ability to thrive.

While many of those struggling with housing are in the service industry commuting upvalley, struggles go beyond and into local working families as well.

Vaughn herself was left without housing for her family, including her three children and a foster child in her care, when her long-time landlord announced they had sold her rental home, leaving her with less than a month to find new housing. She was without stable housing for six weeks until her network came through with an option.

Her story is not uncommon. she says as many landlords are selling or increasing rents in response to the changing regional market. 

As she has been on both sides of the struggle, helping to navigate systems and needed to navigate them for herself, she understands the difficulties facing families. This drives her passion for working in real time with families while more extensive solutions to the housing crisis are explored and worked through, saving them time and honoring their place in our community.

As Bloomberg accurately captured, the influx of new community members is exciting in many ways. As we welcome our new neighbors, may we also consider the lived realities of those who make life here as we know it possible.

Let us all recognize the importance of supporting our larger community because we are an interconnected region.

Allison Alexander is the development director of Aspen Community Foundation, which with the support of its donors works with nonprofits in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys.