Milias: The housing solution must address the real issues |

Milias: The housing solution must address the real issues

Elizabeth Milias
The Red Ant
Elizabeth Milias

Habitat for Humanity’s recent regional housing summit welcomed well-intended bureaucrats to Aspen to address the Western Slope’s “housing crisis.” I tuned in online and immediately identified its flawed premise. Slide No. 1 presented a housing “need” for 6,826 units in the greater Roaring Fork Region by 2027, as determined by a consultancy called EPS in 2019.

Bureaucrats love a report that supports their wishes, but the “landmark” EPS study has been debunked. When questioned to better understand the stated 5,200-unit shortfall in Aspen/Snowmass, the principal of EPS revealed that there was no formula. A young staffer simply made that conclusion, and that individual is no longer at the firm.

And, as preposterous as 5,200 new units may sound, it’s actually off by an order of magnitude. The desire for housing that enables people to live affordably in Aspen is infinite and, therefore, a nonsensical goal to chase. The question not asked is one of economic need: businesses needing workers, as opposed to people wanting subsidized housing.

Aspen’s role in regional solutions is dubious. We already have 7,000 subsidized bedrooms – not including Snowmass Village and employer-owned units – and exist in a real-estate environment far different from that of our regional neighbors. Besides, our issue is unique: We don’t have a housing shortage; we have a labor shortage, the result of our housing program not prioritizing workers.

Aspen leaders should be asking three simple questions:

  • What do we currently have? When counted by bedrooms, not units, across the APCHA portfolio plus Snowmass Village, AVH, the school district, Skico, and countless employers, we would know our existing housing supply and the capacity we can reasonably accommodate today.
  • Who lives there, and what jobs do they hold?  Knowing which jobs are being provided for with housing in our inventory will illustrate housing utilization. Empty bedrooms and non-workers negatively impact housing utilization. The community should determine the amount it is willing to accommodate.
  • How many workers does the economy need to fill its vacant jobs? This number is the economic demand side of the equation.

The city inventories its trees, ADUs, and STRs but wants to keep secret how many empty bedrooms and non-working residents we have in our housing in order to perpetuate that infinite “demand.”

Such active avoidance is politically expedient for building more housing, which has become our de facto community vision despite a stated aversion to growth and development. Meanwhile, anti-worker APCHA has zero interest in solving the labor shortage by prioritizing resort and community service workers. Aspen’s “housing” discussion is merely a ploy to build more, regardless of where people work.

Then there’s the “company town” argument perpetuated by class warriors Mick Ireland and Rachel Richards, who talk out of both sides of their mouths, saying locals should not have their housing tied to employment. Yet the city, the hospital, the schools, Skico, and countless local employers who have secured proprietary units for their employees provide exactly that. Housing utilization is optimized when tied to employment, yet prioritizing workers is somehow antithetical to the goal of “building community.” Shouldn’t all workers be welcomed as community members?

Take the long-delayed, 170-bedroom Burlingame 3 project where the city plans to poach eight bedrooms for “essential” workers despite already owning 67 units elsewhere. Are their “essential” workers more essential than the community’s? Then, APCHA wants to usurp five more units for its right-sizing experiment where current households with unoccupied bedrooms can purchase new, smaller BG3 units. Since APCHA owners are not required to be workers, actual workers in need of housing may be shut out. We are constantly negotiating against ourselves.

Worst, however, are the local housing-industrial-complex NIMBYs who ignore the Latino community. We’re told, “They don’t want to live here.” Local, social-justice, non-profit MANAUS disagrees. They say it’s because the housing system in Aspen is not designed for the needs of the Latino population – never has been and hasn’t evolved with our changing demographics. Advocacy organization Voces Unidas de las Montañas was not at the recent housing confab but reminds that those who work the hardest at the resort and community service jobs we need filled are the ones continually pushed increasingly farther from where they work.

These organizations are critical to solving our labor shortage and must be part of any housing conversation intended to address it. We should be talking about appropriately accommodating a critical mass of this vital workforce in the upper valley where the jobs are instead of building more for the middle class.

No one wants to talk about a numerical bedroom goal or the community’s carrying capacity either. They know that if we reach a given number, it still won’t solve the labor shortage since our housing program does not prioritize workers. No amount of new housing will unless things change.

It’s time to shift our priorities to provide housing for workers by immediately enabling local employers to acquire APCHA units and dramatically reconsidering plans for The Lumberyard. Service workers are essential to our economy, as improved unit utilization is to the long-term sustainability of our housing program. The solution is right before our eyes.

If we don’t provide housing for workers, then we can’t lament the lack of them. It’s that simple. Contact


See more