Letter: Plantation housing in Basalt?
Regarding the report titled “Model project in Basalt could provide teacher housing” (Feb. 18, The Aspen Times), I speak as someone who could never have afforded to live in Honolulu on a teacher’s salary were it not for the low-cost housing offered to me by my private school employer and has helped construct Habitat housing in Northern Ireland and Fiji and has always supported Habitat’s projects in the U.S. I am therefore favorably disposed toward the Basalt proposal.
Except that I’m not.
In reserving a certain number of units for the area’s teachers, the project creates a privileged class of people. If I were a sheet-metal worker, plumber, custodian or Roaring Fork Transportation Authority employee, I’d be pretty cheesed at not getting the same shot at owning a way-below-market-value residence in such a nice location. Teachers are already pretty well-paid these days, so what else are they entitled to?
And then there’s this: A glance at the artist’s rendering confirms that this is “plantation” housing, analogous to what the big sugar companies in Hawaii built for their imported labor force from Asia. A school district, however, is not a private company and should not get to re-engineer a free market on land purchased by the taxpayers.
All sorts of question emerge. If a teacher loses his or her job, does he or she get to keep the housing unit? Will the owner be deed-restricted from selling to anyone except another teacher? Will the unit be allowed to appreciate at the same rate as homes on the open market? And so on.
And what happens when the IRS determines, as it has since the 1970s, that such housing is a perk that is part of a teacher’s total compensation and should therefore be taxed as income? Trust the IRS to undermine any kind of philanthropy.
Yes, the free market is often cruel, but government-sponsored socialism is simply ugly, often creating the kind of mess we see in Aspen’s Centennial project.
My advice? If you’re a teacher who can’t afford to live in the Roaring Fork Valley, either find a way to augment your income, or move to a location where you can afford to do what you love. If you are the city, county or school district, forget about it. This is not your function.
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Richard Compton’s life will be celebrated in an informal gathering on Oct. 23 from 1-3 p.m. at the Pine Creek Cookhouse. All are welcome.