Letter: Either do something or stop complaining
Affordable housing has reached an unhealthy consumption of our communities’ time, energy and resources. Imagine, for a moment, taking the time and energy we focus on affordable housing and instead working on improving our environment, schools, mental-health services and economy.
While it’s not written in any of our city’s or county’s guiding documents, the Aspen City Council’s goal is to house 60 percent of the Pitkin County workforce within the county. Currently, we house 47 percent in free-market and affordable units. By my math, which I hope will be challenged and refined, to get from 47 percent to 60 percent, we need to build approximately 900 units. If we also want to house people no longer in the workforce — retirees — we need to build an additional 1,300 units for a total of 2,200 units.
There are two options for ending the crisis. The first option is that we build it. We float an enormous bond, mortgage the community and build the housing we need once and for all. Cash-in-lieu fees from future development would make the payment. We divvy up the money and the shortfall of units among Aspen, Snowmass and Basalt, and we charge each community with building or buying the equivalent of a couple of Burlingames within the urban-growth boundaries within a set time period.
The single-shot option might be to follow Vail’s lead and build a wall of affordable apartments along the highway. Or we could follow Summit County’s example and try to buy national forest land from the feds and disturb open space. Or we could follow the tiny Swiss village of Vals’ example and decide to build an 80-story tower in the middle of one of our towns.
If neither the thought of a couple of more Burlingames nor of any of the affordable-housing development options being pursued by other resort communities is palatable, the second option is to accept that we place a greater value on our natural environment than on expanded housing development to satisfy our affordable-housing needs and that we must live with the fact that roughly 7.5 percent of Pitkin County residents would suffer the hardship of longer commutes or living in smaller spaces that would be a struggle to afford.
Either option is ultimately better than the status quo, where the crisis of affordable housing dominates our campaigns, budgets, planning efforts, news headlines and community conversation with angst and negativity. Treading water or even going backward in our efforts to build enough affordable-housing units is exhausting our community. There are options to solve the problem, and if we decide that we don’t like those options, then we need to stop the relentless rallying about the injustice of the current situation.