Snowmass Village pushes to create more affordable housing, close gaps
The sun beat down on over two dozen people weaving along the outer edge of Stallion Circle near Snowmass Town Park on Aug. 26.
Some were locals out for a bike ride or walk. Most were locals touring the development sites for the Coffey Place affordable housing units planned within the existing neighborhood.
Town Council members set the tour up at their previous regular meeting after hearing a handful of concerns about the new housing project, mostly related to the planned increase in density of the area, land use and ownership.
Despite these concerns expressed by locals and council at this Aug. 19 meeting, one piece of common ground seemed to exist — Snowmass desperately needs more affordable housing options.
“To let something like a bicycle trail not approve this would be disappointing to me,” one local said at the Aug. 19 meeting. “I have lots of friends who work in the village and would love the opportunity to live down there.”
The need for employee housing isn’t new to Snowmass Village, the Roaring Fork Valley or even the state of Colorado. As the elected officials and locals walked around the staked out Coffey Place sites Aug. 26, they also walked by the town’s latest affordable-housing development, Rodeo Place, a deed-restricted neighborhood completed along Stallion Circle in 2012. The last affordable-housing developments before Rodeo Place were completed between 2000 and 2009, town documents say.
But in early 2019, Town Council set a lofty goal to incentivize the “near-term” creation of 200 affordable-housing units, including the proposed Coffey Place, in Snowmass Village for a wide variety of employees and their families.
Why is this big push for employee housing in Snowmass happening now? And how big of a problem is finding an affordable place to live in town, really?
Priced out of a home
According to a regional housing study on the greater Roaring Fork communities, the valley generates more demand for housing than it has, especially in the Aspen-Snowmass area.
Aspen-Snowmass is the highest-priced market in the region, which the study noted as a “statement of the obvious.” The area’s average free-market home sale price was $2.4 million in late 2018, the study said.
Of course, not all people who work in Aspen or Snowmass want to live there. But even if they did, the study says there is a 4,000-unit shortfall spread across the entire affordability spectrum, except for people with an annual median income above $156,000.
The greatest lack of housing in Aspen-Snowmass exists for people making between $58,800 and $98,000 a year, and most people across the income spectrum rely on employee housing in Aspen, Snowmass or downvalley to make ends meet.
Leah Aegerter, the digital fabrication lab technician at Anderson Ranch, is one local employee who relies on employee housing.
In early February, Aegerter moved into a Snowmass employee unit Anderson Ranch leases from the town. When she moved to the Roaring Fork Valley over two years ago, she started as an intern at the ranch and eventually worked her way up to become a full-time staff member.
But during the in-between time when she wasn’t working at Anderson Ranch, Aegerter said finding housing was hard.
“My partner and I couldn’t find a place we could afford for couples, so we lived in our van and stayed at friends’ houses when they were out of town,” Aegerter said. “Everyone seems to always be searching for housing. … It’s a prevalent and constant conversation.”
Stewart Mann, events manager for the Limelight Hotel in Snowmass who recently moved into a town rental unit, shared similar thoughts.
Mann said she worked in Snowmass for seven years, moved to North Carolina for a year and then moved back to the valley last summer.
When she moved back, Mann said she went about things a little backward — she felt like she had to make sure she secured housing before applying for work.
“I definitely felt having housing was a factor in if I would get a job or not,” Mann said.
Aegerter and Mann said they feel incredibly fortunate to have affordable housing and to live where they work. Both said they know housing is a constant worry on a lot of people’s minds.
Aegerter said she has friends who had good paying jobs and still had to move away because they couldn’t afford the cost of living.
“With all of the tourism and the lifestyle here, you lose the soul of the place because it’s too expensive for people to live in year-round,” Aegerter said. “I wish more people could afford to be here and establish a long-term local community.”
It’s not a secret that Snowmass and Aspen rely heavily on tourists to thrive as year-round communities, which means tourism-related employers are often just as concerned about affordable housing as their employees.
In the Aspen-Snowmass area, the Roaring Fork regional housing study’s 2017 data shows there were 7,606 people employed in retail, arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation or food service industries out of the 15,177 total area employees.
In Snowmass Village specifically, 1,434 people are employed in these industries out of 2,473 total village employees, which is about 58%, according to town data.
Like Anderson Ranch, which has on-site employee housing and a unit it leases from the town, the Westin Snowmass Resort also provides some housing for its higher-level employees.
Roughly 200 people work for the Westin resort and Wildwood hotel. A small number of these employees live in Snowmass, according to complex general manager Jeffery Burrell, while a large number commutes from places such as Carbondale and Basalt.
“Housing is the first question we ask prospective employees because the challenge here is so monumental,” Burrell said. “Even if you pay someone $15 or $20 an hour, it’s still not enough to live here comfortably.”
Burrell said there are three town employee units and 34 hotel rooms within the Wildwood reserved for resort management staff, and that the resort helps pay for commuting employees’ bus tickets.
However, the resort has a pretty high rate of turnover, which Burrell believes has to do with the cost of living.
“If we want to continue the mountain lifestyle, provide good service and good food, there has to be a solution,” Burrell said.
Steve Sklar, co-owner of the Big Hoss Grill, expressed similar thoughts. The Village Mall restaurant leases an employee unit from the town, but Sklar feels the overall lack of affordable housing impacts its ability to connect with its customers.
“Everyone in Aspen and Snowmass is in some sort of customer service job and you cannot provide good customer service with a transient workforce,” Sklar said. “Visitors want to see the same faces. … We need to give them the opportunity.”
Improving the affordable-housing situation
Sklar and Burrell acknowledged they’re willing to take part in finding a solution to the local lack of affordable housing, which they feel has to be a collaborative, community effort.
Sklar said he is a huge supporter of the town’s housing department and the affordable units it offers, but thinks more need to be created.
“The employee-housing program is wonderful; I wouldn’t be here without it,” Sklar said. “But more needs to be built, it’s a big concern and it has to get done.”
And as of early 2019, more affordable units in Snowmass are on the horizon.
On April 15, the re-elected Town Council adopted a set of goals to focus on for the “near-term,” including incentivizing the creation of 200 new affordable-housing units, like Coffey Place.
“We need to create new housing and make sure what we have available is in good condition,” said town-housing director Betsy Crum. “More and more families are coming to the community and want to stay here, so we need to make sure we have a real range of house types and costs available to them.”
According to Crum, the language in the recent town goal statement was carefully crafted. While she is in the process of working with planning officials to map out areas in Snowmass where new affordable units for families across the income spectrum can be “tucked into” existing neighborhoods, Crum said the town also is open to private developers and businesses helping create more employee housing in Snowmass — so long as their projects align with the town’s 2018 Comprehensive Plan.
“Housing is a community issue, so the more opportunity we have to partner, the better our chances are of reaching the 200-unit goal,” Crum said.
Right now, Crum said the town has 247 affordable rental units in six apartment complexes and 176 affordable deed restricted homes.
None of the units was available for rent or for sale in mid-August, Crum said, and about 200 people were on the rental waiting list. For both rentals and deed-restricted units, Crum said precedence is given to Snowmass Village employees who have been working in town for several years.
Moving forward, Crum plans to continue ensuring the homes created and renovated are attainable for Snowmass employees with varying income levels in hopes of addressing the affordable-housing gaps that exist.
“We pay a lot of attention to quality and fairness, and to what’s right for the community,” said Crum of her department and Snowmass town government. “It’s about creating beautiful places to live that have low (financial) impact, and making sure the housing growth is in manageable bites.”