Retirement in worker housing the real issue, not NextGen | AspenTimes.com

Retirement in worker housing the real issue, not NextGen

Considering recent criticism aimed at the Next Generation Advisory Commission (NextGen), the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA) board of directors would like to say that we don't see NextGen as the issue. Rather, the issue as we see it is the forthcoming impact that an aging population will have on the workforce housing program and this community.

The APCHA board is the official advisory and recommending body to Aspen City Council and the Board of County Commissioners on all policy matters relating to affordable workforce housing in their respective jurisdictions. As appointed officials, we welcome diverse community input to make informed policy recommendations to solve critical housing problems.

NextGen recently met with us to brainstorm ideas on how best to address the undeniable impact that an aging population will have on the workforce housing program and this community.

Today nearly 65 percent of deed restricted owners have one or more persons at least 45 years or older, often head of household. In less than 20 years' time, many of these owners will likely retire or work far less than the minimum 1,500 hours, and children in their household will move out to start their own careers and families. Assuming only 30 percent of these units remain occupied by retirees, that's 500 homes out of circulation for full-time workers, particularly families with school-aged children. Some estimates suggest it could reach as high as 800 homes.

To address this looming crisis, the APCHA board and NextGen discussed a variety of possible policy solutions. One solution talked about was the possibility of encouraging voluntary "trade downs." The concept of voluntary trade downs is to allow APCHA owner households, particularly retirees or empty nesters with extra bedrooms, the opportunity and flexibility to voluntarily move down (i.e. downsize or right size) within system. This could free up space (bedrooms) for current and future working households needing it.

Let's be clear. Any trade-down policy would be voluntary, not mandatory. Sadly, some folks are misrepresenting the facts and creating needless fear among current deed-restricted retirees and seniors. The whole point of trade downs is not to forcefully throw anyone out, but to encourage voluntary movement into, within, and out of APCHA by offering reasonable housing choices suitable to age, family size, and lifestyle.

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Our community is losing ground on housing its local labor force despite the continued efforts of local officials to increase supply. The Aspen Area Community Plan, for example, once stated the goal of housing 60 percent of Aspen's labor force. Today, less than half the working population lives in Pitkin County (47 percent of the existing workforce lives in Pitkin County, according to APCHA's 2016 Policy Study). The county's own estimates are even worse — with an alarming 61 percent of most jobs in Pitkin County filled by workers from outside its borders.

The fact is the housing shortage is getting worse. It will continue to worsen because of demographic changes and as the current workforce — particularly those living in deed-restricted ownership units — ages and retires in place.

Retirement in deed-restricted housing is the real issue deserving thoughtful consideration. Denying it's an issue, or to politically pit generation against generation when discussing it, is not in the best interests of the community, nor does it respect the truth.

We welcome everyone's constructive ideas and involvement in solving these issues, and thank NextGen and others for their willingness to address this uncomfortable reality and topic.

Board of directors

Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority