Milias: What are they hiding? |

Milias: What are they hiding?

Elizabeth Milias
The Red Ant
Elizabeth Milias

Everyone is talking about subsidized housing. Everyone except the city of Aspen and APCHA. Despite it being a City Council priority, they refuse to discuss it. It’s just build more, anywhere, at any cost.

And, APCHA, despite the well-intended community volunteers who serve on its board, is stuck in the mud following a detrimental 2019 decision that placed elected officials from both council and the Pitkin County Board of Commissioners in leadership, resulting in an entrenched bureaucratic embrace of the status quo and the perpetuation of proven poor policies and zero transparency.

A cursory glance at the local papers each morning tells a very different story. The usual suspects are speaking out, but, more importantly, new voices are weighing in. A particular nugget captured the root of the problem: APCHA’s original sin was allowing units to be sold versus rented. Another cautioned that any sort of program audit was on par with Big Brother and the surveillance state, and neighbors snitching on neighbors is not a good look for Aspen.

I’m not alone in my obsession. Columnist Roger Marolt supports building more subsidized housing because we need a higher ratio of people living here on subsidy in order to replenish the community with “true locals.” And, Mick Ireland, godparent of Aspen’s subsidized housing, regularly defends housing’s precarious state of affairs in order to perpetuate “Aspen, land of the free: free spirits, free buses, free nordic trails, free concerts, free lectures” for people “who don’t want to spend a lot of money.”

A colleague shared an analogy comparing Aspen’s subsidized-housing quandary to making a pot of soup with three main ingredients: workforce housing, employee housing, and community housing.

Workforce housing is housing for workers, both the essential ones (health care, education, law enforcement) as well as those in the tourism-related industry (retail, recreation, lodging, restaurants).

Employee housing is more discretionary. It is local employer-owned housing for proprietary employees.

And then, there is community housing for everyone else: non-locally working workers, retirees, and other non-workers. So, when the community wants more soup, just add more of everything, right?

Definitely not. Last week, APCHA confirmed that within the city limits, we have 4,072 bedrooms in our subsidized-housing portfolio. This number does not include employer-owned units, such as those owned by the schools. Using a very conservative multiplier of 1.25 people per bedroom to account for couples and families, that’s enough bedrooms for 5090 people.

With a city population of 7241, that’s room for 70% of our local population in APCHA-subsidized housing.

So, a question for Roger and Mick: How many more people than 5,090 do we need to house until you’re satisfied? We are already housing two times the total population of Telluride, yet, somehow, our sense of community and number of “true locals” are supposedly extinct.

Meanwhile, as the voices grow louder, the solutions become increasingly clear. Today, we’re operating on anecdotal evidence and assumptions to support our opinions. As you’re well aware, I believe the program lacks sufficient seasonal rental housing for the community and resort service-industry workforce. I base my opinion on the well-documented shortage of service-industry workers who sustain our tourism-based economy. But, without scientific data, I could very well be wrong. I can admit that.

What we need is an independent audit of APCHA. We need to know who we’re housing. We need to know what work they do in our community. And, until we change the structure of APCHA, as long as we rely on income levels to distribute our inventory, we need to know people’s income brackets. It’s the only way to honestly identify which segments of our economy are being provided for at the expense of others. Besides, the habitation of a subsidized APCHA unit is based on contributing to a community purpose.

Providing such information is not punishment; it’s a condition. The days of APCHA providing the same conditions as the free market but at a subsidized rate must end if the program is to survive.

An independent audit will clarify our housing needs and highlight our inefficiencies with facts, not feelings. And, we’ll be rid of the debunked “EPS regional housing study” the city relies on simply because it concluded we need an additional 3,000 units in the upper valley, which supports their narrative. (A quick call to the EPS principal to gain an understanding of the research for its findings yielded the critical tell, “There was no formula.” And, the young associate who wrote the report? “He is no longer with the firm.”) Incidentally, this study serves as basis for The Lumberyard planning.

In short, we need:

  • An APCHA audit.
  • Employer participation in the APCHA ownership lottery.
  • A revised APCHA employment affidavit.
  • A needs study not based on consumer demand.

A housing audit is not unlike the city’s Treeplotter Inventory that tracks all 11,502 trees within the city limits via GIS mapping and lists them by species, right down to Kentucky coffeetrees (three), Siberian elms (12), and crabapples (384). Tamper with any one of these, and it’s big trouble for you! Why should our multi-billion-dollar, taxpayer-subsidized housing inventory operate any differently?

The willful ignorance about who we are actually housing in no way helps those we should be. An audit is the answer. Contact