Young locals want more dog friendly housing units

by Dorothy Atkins, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Young locals want more of the affordable housing inventory to be dog friendly.

That was the consensus among a group of 20-to-40 year olds who attended a roundtable discussion on Aspen’s housing program hosted by the Aspen Democracy Initiative (ADI) last week.

During the discussion, multiple attendees spoke in favor of creating housing that is dog friendly or withdrawing existing restrictions that outlaw pets at some properties.

One young woman in the audience who has lived in the area for four years said she has had to pay a premium for free market units that allow dogs in order to keep her pet and live in Aspen.

There should be a concerted effort to make as many units dog friendly as possible, especially if the second phase of the Burlingame housing project gets developed in the upcoming years, she said.

The issue has not been formerly addressed by City Council, but a dog friendly Burlingame II is a possibility, said Assistant City Manager Barry Crook.

The first phase of Burlingame, which opened in 2007, outlawed dogs in the development in a pre-annexation deal with neighboring ranch owners, Crook said. It would take the effort of multiple groups involved with the Burlingame project to get the pet restriction removed from Burlingame Phase I and the new addition, but it’s not impossible to do, he said.

“A number of people have to raise their hands and say, ‘I no longer care,’” Crook said about the no-dog policy. That could be difficult because some homeowners who live in Burlingame gave up their pets to live in the development and might be reluctant to accept the new policy, he said. Still, those homeowners would have an easier time selling their units, because dog friendly units are in high demand, he said.

The meeting, which ran just over an hour and a half, was a lively discussion on the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority’s (APCHA) strengths and weakness with plenty of time spent clarifying and explaining to the young group how the housing system actually works. Common misconceptions included how many years a person needs to live in Aspen in order to qualify for affordable housing and there was general confusion about how housing was categorized, specifically in regards to resident occupied (RO) units.

Other concerns about the affordable housing stock include poor management and upkeep of the existing housing inventory, the poor quality of furnishings and appliances in some units, the artificial fracturing of the valley that is created by limiting APCHA homeowners to Pitkin County workers and the large sum of money that is required for new renters to put down before moving into APCHA rental units.

“When you need to pay first, last and a security deposit, that is impossible for most young people,” said local bartender Jeff Boyd. “None of us have like three Gs of liquid assets that we can just pay for all that.”

APCHA also ignores student loan debt when considering what category of housing an individual qualifies for, which is based on the applicant’s annual income. That can put homeowners in the difficult situation of qualifying for higher category housing without the ability to secure loans from a bank due to large student loan debt, said Jill Teehan, a co-founder of ADI.

As for creating more family friendly affordable housing communities, the group was split. Some, who were mostly newlyweds and young parents, asked for more family friendly options, while others asked for a community where “you can’t hear babies crying through the walls,” as one attendee put it.

Limiting families with children to specific developments is not something that the government can do, Cook said.

“I can prohibit dogs, I can’t prohibit babies,” Crook said. 

The discussion was an attempt to gather feedback from the demographic in preparation for the government housing summit that will take place Sept. 27 and Oct. 11.