Letter: Community housing, not employee housing
December 10, 2013
In response to The Aspen Times Friday editorial, "Rental housing market deserves more attention," let's not forget that the employee-housing program was supposed to house seasonal employees. The real estate market took off and the city tried to grab a piece of it, losing sight of the original goal. (This also had the opposite of the intended effect by making free-market housing more exclusive.)
By transforming the definition of seasonal employee (renter) to year-round employee (homeowner) without creating a year-round industry to employ them, we now have Burlingame, unsold units, aging unkept properties and retirees being asked to vacate to let seasonal employees rent.
We can continue to try and bend the system to shallow ideas or we can take a long, cold hard look at the present reality and adapt (one of those Darwinian words, "adapt" is different than the verb "react").
I'm in favor of community housing, not employee housing.
1. Aspen is a town with a seasonal industry. As long as the seasonal industry lasts, we need temporary housing (rentals). The city of Aspen has decided to help seasonal businesses by providing low-cost housing to temporary employees. This was first attempted by companies for their employees in the 19th century and was considered a huge innovation; it was called "social capitalism." It is my opinion that by separating employee housing from the fortunes of the company we've broken that model.
2. The "employable" youth are the least vulnerable amongst us. It is my opinion that a community is judged by how it treats the "most" vulnerable (1 percent of Aspen is homeless).
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3. The more diverse a community is, the stronger it is (old, young, rich, poor, multi-racial, multi-cultural). It is my opinion that until rich and poor rub elbows the bickering will continue and the community will suffer. That was the Aspen which we "old farts" miss, where no one gave a hoot who you were, just if you could ski. You could be forgiven even that if you threw a good party (damn, we used to have more fun).
You want to use housing quotas? Then you should include ethnicity, age and education — or just abandon the quota system.
A development without a green area or a place for kids to play should not pass. Better yet, a development without a coffee house should not pass.
Bring essential services (schools and hospitals) back into the core. As you increase the density, you lower the footprint.
Throw out the zoning rules and let pop-up businesses thrive anywhere. "Messy vitality" doesn't come from government; it comes from necessity and invention.
Full disclosure: I have one of those "small rentals" in Aspen and it is a chunk of change to move in. The city could bring down some of my costs (taxes) and/or grant housing subsidies to seasonal employees. The city cannot keep playing landlord by renting/selling below cost and render the community services, which should be its primary responsibility.
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