Roger Marolt: Ushering back the good ’ol days by welcoming the newcomers
There will be a bunch of new kids attending the local schools this fall. I know the real estate market is hot right now, but for a while I couldn’t jibe the increase in the number of new students with the increased sales volumes of houses. It didn’t seem likely that most of the houses sold were by people without children to people with children.
Then it occurred to me that maybe many of the new kids in town are from families who already own homes in Aspen. The difference is that those homes used to be second homes and are now being converted to primary residences for owners who have decided to live here full time to escape the cities and live where they have a little more, and safer, wiggle room.
I also see that a lot of the homes that are trading hands are in the $10 million-plus range. This also makes sense according to the theory of harmonic conversion of second-homes. I have read a couple articles describing the trend of super-wealthy people escaping to their vacation homes during the pandemic, and then buying mansions next door for their adult children to occupy with their grandchildren in tow. Of all the things to spend millions on, this one sounds as cool as any.
Metaphorically speaking, if this unforeseen phenomenon is truly happening, we are back-filling a deep hole in the foundation of our community. For decades we have bemoaned the darkening of neighborhoods with mansions that are occupied only a few weeks each year. Local families have been replaced by full-time show-offs partying here part time. It has led to a loss of vibrancy.
Now, beyond all reasonable expectation and hope, the second homes are filing up again with families year-round. The only thing missing is a vacant lot to convert into a rough baseball diamond and dirt bike track.
Even though this is something we said we wanted, we don’t know how to react now that it is happening. We may be stunned. As with any change to the local landscape, it is in our resort town DNA to oppose it, to push back. Or, maybe we just said we wanted this to happen, believing it was never a possibility. Either way, we’ll adjust or sell out. Both brands of contentment are available.
There is another issue related to this that we will need to address. For years we have waved the banner for employee housing while chanting the mantra for more locals being able to afford living in town. Now that we are in the process of converting many vacation homes into permanent residences, we should change our tune so that it still makes sense.
We are suddenly filling the town with year-round residents without building more employee housing. We have discovered the way to fill monster homes with families without passing a single ordinance or providing a government subsidy. As weird as it sounds, more Aspen residents can now afford to live more comfortably here than perhaps at any time in the town’s history. The mining era, the Quiet Years; many have always struggled to live here.
This is not to insinuate that we no longer need affordable housing, but we have to restate the reason for why we do. With more permanent residents living within a We-Cycle ride of City Market, the purpose of employee housing can’t practically be to create more locals. It should shift back to the original reason, which was to assuage a worker shortage. It doesn’t sound as nice as “to provide richer texture to the community fabric,” but it’s honest.
This would be a major juxtaposition of cause and effect. Instead of aiming to put families back in the West End, the goal is once again to ensure local businesses have more locals working in them. We should resolve that net developed real estate, commercial and residential cannot increase until most local businesses are mostly staffed with locals. We continue to build affordable housing at one end of the problem and slow business expansion at the other until this goal is met.
In this happy scenario, more workers are glad to have an affordable place to live in Aspen and employers are happy because the reduced cost of living ought to result in downward pressure on employment costs and more content, long-term employees. This could be the way we finally get commuters off the highway and spawn legit 24/7 vibrancy. Who thought an influx of newcomers might take Aspen back to the good old days?
Roger Marolt thinks Texans are all right, except for the cheating Houston Astros, the most despicable bums in all of sports history. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.