Milias: With housing utilization, the city of Aspen is the worst |

Milias: With housing utilization, the city of Aspen is the worst

Elizabeth Milias
The Red Ant
Elizabeth Milias

As it pushes the community toward more and more subsidized housing construction at any cost on the last remaining vacant parcels in town and atop cherished, historically-designated Victorians, the city of Aspen quietly maintains a small portfolio of housing of its very own. With 67 units comprised of 121 bedrooms, select city employees are rewarded with ownership and rental opportunities for studios up to four-bedroom homes.

This little fiefdom has been made possible by the 505 Fund, established in 2008 and funded by all departments in the city as well as the general fund, where each allocates a percentage of their budget. In 2023, over $2.8 million will be transferred from individual city department budgets to the 505 Fund. Noteworthy contributions include $185,000 from the Wheeler fund, $134,000 from the parking fund, $77,000 each from the golf and day care funds, and a whopping $1.3 million from the general fund.

While loudly espousing that housing ought not be tied to employment, the city’s housing most definitely is; so when someone leaves their job, their unit must be vacated and returned or sold back to the city. Uniquely, however, those in city housing can pass along their maintenance and improvement costs to the city because such expenditures are seen as capital investments toward the long-term upkeep of the units. APCHA, in contrast, caps its reimbursements, so there is no incentive for residents to improve – let alone even maintain – their units.

Anyone who does business with the city has come to learn that things here take forever. A visit to the city offices reveals how many work from home these days, yet the excuse for everything from building permits to open-records requests taking an insulting amount of time is constantly blamed on “the housing crisis.”

I’m not buying it.

A simple analysis of the city’s 67 housing units is telling. According to the city attorney’s office, just 53 are currently occupied. Fourteen are vacant; this represents 27 empty bedrooms and 22% of the inventory. And of the 53 occupied units, recent information provided lists a Skico employee in a three-bedroom, an employee of the animal shelter in a one-bedroom, and another random dude with no employment noted who occupies a two-bedroom unit.

For an entity that continues to blame its poor service on the lack of employee housing, one might think they’d have darned tight controls on who resides in their rare and valuable units. Instead, they don’t even bother to keep good records!

But City Council did just allocate nearly $3.6 million to cut the line to buy five new units (eight bedrooms) at Burlingame 3 for “essential” employees. Notably, such essential city employees already in city housing include an apprentice line technician, a recreation supervisor, and a parking ambassador. (Somehow the city can determine who is and who isn’t essential, but it’s “classist” to suggest the same of APCHA.)

Furthermore, according to City Manager Sara Ott – who admits that many city jobs can be done remotely, enabling these to be filled by people who do not need local housing – the city is looking to provide housing for a full third of its 368 full-time equivalent staff. That’s 122 people. Today there are 121 bedrooms in the city’s existing 67 units, so, from an optimal utilization standpoint, we’re practically there. Add the new eight bedrooms at Burlingame – and voila, goal met. It’s certainly not the crisis they make it out to be.

But the death is always in the details. Further analysis of the city’s housing utilization reveals that they house just 0.45 employees per bedroom. That’s a lot of unused space, especially for an entity that is driving the “housing shortage” narrative. Just because APCHA runs a similarly lenient program when it comes to inventory utilization, the whole premise is incredibly irresponsible, and nothing short of a slap in the face of every taxpaying citizen whose hard-earned money pads both the APCHA and city coffers.

And don’t forget, plenty of city employees also live in APCHA housing. It’s just that the city doesn’t keep track of this. Or if they do, they won’t tell. I asked.

If APCHA provided any semblance of transparency regarding who is living in our publicly-subsidized housing inventory and where they work locally, it would be simple to determine what percent of city staff is currently being housed either by the community or the city itself. It’s just a guess, but I’ll say that number is well over 66%.

Meanwhile, as the city continues its housing shopping spree by picking up units outside the city limits along the transit routes with your tax dollars, it still insists that the development requirements for housing mitigation provide housing in Aspen proper. It’s more about the financial extraction from developers, not the provision of housing — fitting from the very entity that “generated” 51.6 full-time equivalent employees when building the Taj Mahal City Hall, but instead of mitigating as other developers are required to do, put this number against “credits” it granted itself from existing housing it already had in inventory.

At city hall, “h” is for “hypocrisy,” not “housing.”

Funny to criticize new council members for not joining time-suck regional boards while specifically keeping them from the APCHA board. Can’t imagine why. Contact