Roger Marolt: Lack of affordable housing is getting expensive |

Roger Marolt: Lack of affordable housing is getting expensive

Roger Marolt
Roger This
Roger Marolt

For a moment, let’s accept the notion that community personality doesn’t matter; that we don’t need locals around giving the place atmosphere. Forget town character for the sake of discussion. Set aside the possibility that the next generation of Aspen Mountain ski patrol may not know where “Christmas Tree” is or be able to execute a simple kick-turn on Face of Bell. Assume a new normal where Winterskol kings and queens haven’t mastered skiing moguls.

We must go through this exercise of hypothetical town makeup, because there are those among us who think we have enough employee housing, that it’s socialism, that it should not be a home, just a bunk for seasonal workers. They point to the numbers indicating there are 4,000 affordable housing bedrooms in our community of 7,294 full-time residents, claiming this proves enough is enough.

Their numbers prove nothing. By what standard do they indicate we have enough housing for workers in Aspen? No such formula exists. There is no example to follow. They are made up figures to support a perverted conclusion.

Since there is no logic to leaning on this ratio as evidence, those who do must consider employees like superfluous town flavoring, acting as if workers are akin to sugar to sweeten their tea or salt to make their meats more savory.

I think employees living in town are more like vitamins. We need them to keep our community healthy and strong. Our town doesn’t seem all that healthy right now. Some say we suddenly have too many tourists. I suggest it’s more that we don’t have enough workers living in town.

If I was king of Aspen for a day, I would command that employee housing outnumber free-market housing by multiples. The more workers we house, the better service everyone, locals and visitors alike, receives. And it will be cheaper, too. Nobody really believes all those commuters endure Highway 82 day after miserable day for free, do they?

The same people who cite the meaningless ratio of employee to free-market units in town also claim we don’t need any more employee housing today, because town is about the same size as it was 30 years ago.

This only make sense to those who can’t imagine Aspen 30 years ago. Almost all our workforce lived in town then.

As a tourist economy, the effective population of our town has always been many times greater than our year-round population. Now, suddenly, we have the online short-term rentals phenomenon taking over. We are yet to grasp how much this has swelled the ranks of visitors beyond what we have dealt with in the past.

This is not to mention that visitors require many more services than residents, too. They do more shopping, dining out, taking taxis, renting gear and hiring ski instructors, trainers and golf pros. But even today’s locals require many more services than did the average family living here in the 1980s. With swimming pools, professional landscaping, HVAC systems, media rooms, staging kitchens, and on and on, modern Aspen homes require lots more people to service them. While there may not be more houses in Aspen today, there is lots more to modern Aspen houses.

It is obvious Aspen needs more employees living closer to town. This is manifest in a deteriorating quality of life for everyone — residents, visitors and commuters. And, this diminished enjoyment of life is coming at a drastically higher price.

Considering the nominal and human costs of daily traffic crawling in and out of Aspen, the difficulties of finding and keeping reliable employees, and the exorbitant prices of everything being driven up by commuting workers charging what it’s worth to live 20 or more miles away and make the daily drive into Aspen, expanding the affordable housing inventory close to town may be the cheapest solution.

Not coincidentally, Vail Resorts stock has tanked since early November when analysts zeroed in on the affordable housing and employee shortages at their resorts. Huh. What if it turns out that a stable, happy, year-round, locally knowledgeable workforce turns out to be the best amenity a place like Aspen can offer its guests?

As for working people adding flavor to the town, yes, it is a delightful byproduct. The best part of Aspen is passionate ski bums, starving artists, working parents, mischievous local kids in the know, retired people telling us their stories, and grandparents massaging the salve of wisdom into our frenzied lives. That’s our fabric. That’s our history. It’s a huge bonus.

Roger Marolt wonders if the Interstate Highway system is a product of socialism or capitalism. Whether you use it for work or to visit your mother-in-law, our country is a better place for it.


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