Retirees who own affordable housing may soon be able to leave the valley and rent their homes for up to six months out of the year.
The housing board voted 2-1 on Wednesday to change the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA) guidelines that restrict retirees from living outside Aspen.
APCHA guidelines currently require all homeowners, including retirees, to live in their unit for at least nine months annually and they are not allowed to sublet them. APCHA homeowners can retire in their units as long as they are 65 or older, have worked 1,500 hours a year for four years in Pitkin County, maintain occupancy in the unit for at least nine months a year and not own other property in the valley.
Board members voted to change the policy, because they reason retirees don’t necessarily want to live in Aspen during the winter months but still might want to keep their homes.
Also, requiring retirees to rent their units if they leave for more than three months could create a new affordable housing inventory of units for seasonal workers.
“We call it the ‘Caribbean rotation,’” said APCHA director Tom McCabe. “Essentially for six months of the year you could go to a warmer climate, but you don’t have to give up your attachment to community and it will backfill the units for those months with seasonal workers.”
Retirees living in affordable housing is projected to become a bigger issue in the coming decade in Aspen, with a wave of baby boomers set to leave the workforce. The concern is finding a balance between being fair to people who have worked their whole lives in the community, while still respecting the mission of the housing program, which is to make sure working people have a place to live.
Board member Ron Erickson voted against the proposal, because he personally doesn’t want to be forced to rent his unit out when he retires if he leaves for six months, he said. Erickson agreed with allowing retirees to leave their unit for part of the year however.
The policy change has been suggested before, but was halted in the past because of the issues that could arise with renting owned units, McCabe said.
“It’s fraught with complications,” he said.
Homeowners associations would have to agree to allow short-term rentals on owned units and the housing authority would have to qualify and create guidelines for potential renters, McCabe said, adding that it would be a lot more paperwork for APCHA.
The senior population might not want to take advantage of the new policy, because they would be renting their homes to strangers putting their belongings at risk of being stolen or damaged, McCabe said.
Still, the benefit of creating a new inventory for seasonal workers would be worth launching a pilot program to see if it works, he said.
The policy is the first of many guideline issues that the housing board plans to review in the new year, including one on redefining what a retiree is. Each guideline change will go before Aspen City Council and Pitkin County commissioners for final review next year.