As candidates for council and mayor start to appear, I hope Burlingame II and affordable housing are key campaign issues.
When growth management and the downzoning of the city and county was enacted, we understood that decreasing residential opportunities would raise real estate prices and push out our labor force. Yet maintaining a stable year-round population and a local work force were judged to be goals as important as retaining Aspen’s small-town character. We responded with the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority.
The authority and growth management rules have produced over 2,800 affordable units and our original two goals empirically appear to have been achieved. Aspen’s year round population has remained stable for 30 years at around 6,000 souls. In the 1980s and 1990s, help-wanted advertisements in the local newspapers took two to four pages. Today help-wanted ads usually require only a half page.
Job reports show that several thousand valley jobs were lost in the recession. City Council needs to identify how many full-time jobs and how many part-time jobs Aspen has. Proposed “for sale” projects like Burlingame II only address the needs of full-time, year-round employees. There are no plans to add to rental inventory which is what seasonal part-time employees require.
As we quantify jobs, we need to include the affordable inventory in the midvalley as part of the solution. We have spent tens of millions, if not a couple hundred million, improving public transportation on Highway 82 because we always assumed the midvalley would be part of the affordable housing inventory. To continue undercutting locals who solved their own housing needs downvalley by expanding government-subsidized competing inventory is just plain cruel.
I urge all the candidates and the sitting council to re-look at the direction, assumptions and goals of affordable housing. Staff and council demonstrated with their last proposal that they are willing to spend a great deal of money and time on developing solutions. But as the public hearing on mitigation fees demonstrated, they are “solving” for the wrong questions.