Meredith C. Carroll: Aspen’s day without employee housing
Soon after President Donald Trump took the oath of office last year, his raging case of xenophobia inspired a “Day Without Immigrants” on Feb. 16. Naturalized citizens and undocumented workers in major cities across the country stayed home while some businesses rejected profits to demonstrate just how much the United States’ culture and economy relies on contributions from non-native residents.
Nearly a year later, as the White House’s war on diversity and tolerance rages on, so, too, does Aspen’s employee-housing debate. #Shitholegate is arguably as unique to Trump’s particular (peculiar?) brand of diplomacy as the rancid orange pus he’s been ejaculating around the world for at least the past year. Except Trump isn’t alone in sneering at the existence of so many of the people integral to the national melting pot. In fact, his entire spiel has an eerily familiar — and local — ring.
Disdain for subsidized housing in Aspen is really a real thing. Described by a pack of wannabe pundits as “welfare for the middle to upper class” and “freebie housing,” they assert a vast left-wing conspiracy exists within the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority wherein throngs of people sit around eating bonbons and snickering as they illegally rent out their taxpayer-subsidized homes for outrageous sums. Apparently the local media also rigged the system to ensure housing for its own. (D’oh! If only we’d used our black magic to win an actual lottery.)
Those diametrically opposed to Aspen sheltering its hundredaires and thousandaires in proximity to the millionaires and billionaires proclaim that home ownership should exist on a survival-of-the-wealthiest basis, as in: If you’re not wealthy enough to survive in Aspen without assistance, then you should leave. And if you insist on planting roots, you will be scorned if you can’t afford a landscaper to tend to them. Your other choice is to behave unfailingly happy and grateful with a rental instead of a deed.
Substitute the contempt for those who can’t afford a free-market single-family home within city limits (the average sales price of which was $7.4 million in 2017, according to Tuesday’s Aspen Times) with, say, people from Haiti and some African nations (although definitely not Norway, because their kind are obviously welcome). The classism and condescension are separate but equally repugnant in that they’re astonishingly small-minded, unsophisticated and shortsighted.
So what would happen if Aspen took a page from A Day Without Immigrants and declared its own Day Without Employee Housing?
• You better hope there aren’t any Columbine- or Aurora-type emergencies, or even a need for non-catastrophic law enforcement assistance: At least 75 percent of the Aspen Police Department, or 25 of its officers, live in subsidized housing;
• Ideally you have a Plan B in place for the kids since the Aspen School District provides 50 homes for its staff members, a number which doesn’t also include those who live locally thanks to APCHA;
• By all means, don’t get sick on the Day Without Employee Housing because Aspen Valley Hospital has 29 housing units for its staff. Like with the ASD, that doesn’t count hospital employees in APCHA housing;
• Put down the matches and lighters and check the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors: Approximately 21 out of 35 Aspen Fire Department staff and volunteers live in subsidized housing;
• There’d be no news on A Day Without Employee Housing: Of the 22 full-time staff members at the Aspen Times, only two live upvalley on the free market;
• Aspen’s Day Without Employee Housing wouldn’t be a ski-for-all, either. The Aspen Skiing Co. doesn’t have data on the number of people on its payroll who rely on APCHA, but Skico provides 600 of its employees with beds, so if they were all to remain tucked in them, good luck earning your 100-day pin;
• If you think the time you spend in the checkout line at City Market during the noon hour adds years to your life, consider how long it would feel if 10 to 15 percent fewer employees were on hand to man the lunchtime registers, as that’s around the percentage of their employees who would be absent on Aspen’s Day Without Employee Housing.
Also to consider are city and county employees, trash collectors, coaches, baristas, librarians, day care workers, hospitality personnel, bus drivers, attorneys, Realtors, delivery people, administrative assistants, safety inspectors, working artists, food industry staff, construction workers, custodians, receptionists, office managers, barbers and stylists, salespeople, shop employees, bank tellers, fitness instructors, music students, housekeepers, architects, urban planners, chiropractors, payroll managers, financial advisers, plumbers, mechanics, taxi drivers and property managers.
Certainly people with means are capable of plowing roads, scrubbing toilets, performing symphonies and stitching their own wounds (although maybe get some rubbing alcohol to sterilize the needle first — if Carl’s Pharmacy remains unaffected by the Day Without Employee Housing, that is). And the rich are just as integral to Aspen’s soul as those who are rich with love only.
The contention that some are more deserving of opportunity than others due to their country of origin or socioeconomic status may well be consistent with the Trump way, although surely it bears zero resemblance to Aspen’s. Aspen was built on the shoulders of silver miners and the savoir-faire of business visionaries — and remains widely beloved and admired nearly a century-and-a-half later for its diversity of scenery, characters, visitors, adventures, personalities, dedication, abilities, ages, experiences, backgrounds — and a bottomless capacity for passion and patience.
The question shouldn’t be why Aspen has subsidized housing and the U.S. allows immigrants, but why some consider them burdens even though they add more character and flavor to the communities they serve.
Follow Meredith Carroll on Twitter @MCCarroll. More at MeredithCarroll.com.
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