We can’t build our way out of housing shortage | AspenTimes.com

We can’t build our way out of housing shortage

Theories of sustainability based on the perceived benefits of higher urban densities tend to get a bit shaky applied to resort towns and other desirable locations. Density advocates contend that building more and denser residential housing in towns will make homes or rent more affordable as well as stopping sprawl into the counties. Valley residents have seen the error in this belief based on historical realities and what we see on the landscape.

Resort areas and attractive locations on the coasts and in the mountains experience a high demand for housing. In states like Colorado, there are few restrictions on urban development resulting in sprawl into counties and price hikes in both towns and unincorporated areas. It is unrealistic to think we can build our way out of a housing shortage or an overpriced housing market, as long as demand to live in extraordinary places greatly exceeds supply.

In a recent Aspen Daily News article, a past research scientist and international environmental activist Dr. Gary Wockner stated: “Affordable housing is a big and real problem in many places in Colorado. Packing more people into a town/city often does not create more affordable housing if the demand is high. If you have 5,000 people commuting in, and you create 100 affordable units, you still have 4,900 people commuting in.”

“If a community really wants to address affordable housing issues, they need stronger and more expensive government programs including rent control and heavy subsidies that may involve raising taxes for money to subsidize affordable housing,” continued Wocker.

In Denver, thousands of free market units are being built, the unit size is shrinking, costs are skyrocketing, and the quality of life is diminishing. No matter how fast high density, high-rise housing is built, there is not enough supply to bring the prices down. In the east, government subsidized housing has been a reality for many years. According to the New York City Housing Authority, “NYCHA is home to 1 in 14 New Yorkers. Our residents are employed as teachers, police officers, nurses — people who provide services that are essential to the City”. If resort communities desire to decrease traffic and house community workers near employment centers, the ratio of subsidized government housing in resorts would likely be similar.

Neither of the above options are widely used or politically supported in resort areas. However, it remains evident that pricing subsidies and limiting unincorporated commercial and residential sprawl are discussions that should be on the table.

It’s time for a regional approach if we are to create a sustainable economic framework for the future. It would limit future housing stock to subsidized price restricted development. Major employers would house their employees near their jobs. Future urban landscapes would exist only in incorporated towns where transit is easily accessible, schools are walkable and where healthy communities have historically thrived. (Take a look at the European model) A major change is needed if we are to be prepared for the growth that is clearly on the horizon.

Jacque Whitsitt

Mayor, Basalt