traffic

The lineup of traffic coming into Aspen on a recent morning stretched past the Maroon Creek Bridge, despite the fact that it’s off-season. A regional housing study has revealed that the valley’s 26,000 commuters list the price of housing as the number one factor that leads them to commute.

The results of a valley-wide analysis of affordable housing needs, which projects a shortfall of 5,700 units by the late 2020s, will be presented Tuesday evening at the Pitkin County Library.

Data was collected and analyzed by consultants from Economic & Planning Systems and RRC Associates throughout the last year. The analysis encompassed a T-shaped geographical region, an area the report refers to as the Greater Roaring Fork Region (GRFR). It runs along Highway 82 from Aspen to Glenwood Springs, including Redstone and Marble, and along Interstate 70 from Parachute to Eagle.

The report highlights the lack of affordable housing throughout the valley, the high number of commuters and the aging workforce as key takeaways threatening the area’s livability. While these are not surprising conclusions, this study assembles trends about the valley’s many communities and government boundaries all in one place.

“The purpose is to create a common language with uniformly-collected information and analysis from which regional solutions can finally address regional problems,” the report states.

Consultants will present the report and answer questions tonight at the Pitkin County Library beginning at 5 p.m. The public is welcome and will be invited to ask questions.

According to the report, there is currently a shortfall of 3,900 households throughout the region for those who make up to 160 percent of the area median income. Using 2017 numbers for the Roaring Fork Valley, that means those households making less than $156,000 annually. Within the next decade it is estimated that the affordable housing shortfall will grow to 5,700. The biggest supply deficit is for households in Aspen that make between $58,000 and $78,000 annually.

Consultants looked at state and U.S. Census data regarding area incomes and household dynamics. Additionally, two surveys went out in late winter of 2018 collecting data from the valley’s employees and employers. In their feedback the majority of employees expressed concern about cost of living.

“Housing costs compared to incomes are horrifying,” wrote one respondent. “I have zero savings because of the rental market. I have little recreation time because I work so much for so little and I have a master’s degree.”

The study grew from the concept of a regional housing authority. Two years ago Basalt residents David Myler and Bill Lamont spoke to the town and county governments throughout the region about banding together to address housing needs. They likened the idea to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which is the multijurisdictional public transportation service. Government leaders in the upper valley were not particularly receptive to the pitch, and Snowmass Village, Aspen, and Pitkin County declined to put funding toward the study. However, the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority contributed $25,000 toward the nearly $150,000 effort.

“We embraced the idea of working cooperatively with ... other downvalley communities to help fund a regional housing study,” said Mike Kosdrosky, executive director of APCHA. “The value and goodwill coming from participating in a [Roaring Fork Valley] regional housing study was just too good to pass up.”

One employer responded to the housing study questionnaire criticizing APCHA’s requirements that residents in the subsidized housing program work within the county limits.

“Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin counties need to learn to work together to help each other,” wrote the respondent, who like all survey responders remained anonymous in the report. “The cost of the housing problem ... is only going to worsen. It is in the best interest for all to allow families to, for example, live in Pitkin County housing but work in Eagle County and vice versa. The county lines in the valley are a problem in more ways than one.”

The study shows that between 70 and 90 percent of households from Snowmass Village to El Jebel have at least one member who works in Aspen, but it warns “while Aspen may be the location of employment for many, it is not necessarily everyone’s preferred place to live.”

Change in population

The graphic shows estimated population changes in various towns around the Roaring Fork Valley region, with the growth in the over-65 demographic shown in orange.

Of the 2,111 responses to the survey, the majority of people indicated that they wanted to remain in the community in which they already lived. That number was highest for those living in Aspen, with 91 percent saying they want to stay there. Carbondale has the second highest satisfaction rate with 75 percent of residents saying they would like to stay in that community.

The reported household incomes did not vary significantly throughout the region, but housing affordability ranged drastically. The region from New Castle to Parachute has the cheapest housing options, with an average home price of $308,528. Not surprisingly, the most expensive region is from Snowmass Village to Aspen, which features an average home price of $2.3 million. Residents living in the Basalt-through-Carbondale region reported having the most funds for a downpayment on a home, with 18 percent having more than$250,000 to put down, much of that in the form of equity in the homes they already own.

“Not surprisingly, many of these individuals have been in the area for some time and are relatively longtime owners; they have benefitted from housing price increases over decades,” the report explains.

In contrast, in the Aspen-through-Snowmass Village boundaries, 17 percent said they had $25,000 to $35,000 that could go to a downpayment.

“It’s unreasonable to think that anyone working an ordinary job could afford to buy a home in Aspen — a market that for the last 40 years has been driven by some of the world’s wealthiest households,” the report concludes.

Around the time the regional housing study was first discussed, Aspen’s Next Generation Commission began a conversation about making it easier for retirees to downsize their homes, which led to a generational spat amongst locals.

The regional housing study addressed this issue head on, stating “retiring workers are a time bomb.”

Almost 40 percent of the Aspen/Snowmass residents over 50 said they will be retiring within a decade. Population estimates from the state of Colorado project that half of the Aspen/Snowmass growth in the next 10 years will be those in the older demographic. Taking these predictions into consideration, the report authors recommend the addition of downsizing options in the upper valley.

“The survey results also suggest that there is a segment of the community that will be interested in renting or purchasing a smaller home upon retirement — about 26 percent say they are ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ likely,” the report says. “Encouraging the development of some new smaller homes for retiring workers should be considered as a part of local housing plans.”

Along with gauging the housing preferences of valley residents, the regional housing study sent out specific questionnaires to local employers. Nearly 300 businesses responded, representing 14,485 jobs. The employers’ data matched residents’ responses closely. Forty-eight percent of employers rated affordable housing as one of the more serious problems for local residents and they attributed housing costs to struggles in finding reliable workers. Thirty seven percent had full time job openings, and 47 percent reported that they had lost workers who turned down a job or quit their job because they were not able to secure housing. In the 2017/18 winter season, companies had on average 2.8 percent of their positions open.

“The turn-over of core employees such as teachers and police/fire officers is greatly impacted by the lack of 'decent' affordable housing. Many of the deed-restricted developments have become slums — yet still too expensive. I would not want my children living there,” wrote one employer.

There are about 50,400 jobs in the valley and that number is rising. Notably, it is less than the 2008 peak of 55,000. The GRFR population is 103,000. Employers blamed poor work performance, tardiness, fatigue and turnover on the area’s high housing costs.

The economic ripples of the valley’s affordable housing shortage equal a $54 million loss annually. The study analyzed the rate at which residents are “cost-burdened,” or spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing. In any community, residents spend a significant portion of their disposable income in manners that help boost the local economy. But in the valley, residents are spending an average of $320 additional a month on housing.

“The impact is that $320 per month spent regionally would recirculate locally in very different ways (creating jobs) in the hands of households rather than the hands of non-local landlords or residential mortgage bond-holders (e.g. Wall Street),” the study states.

Because the housing study was valley-wide, the consultants were able to analyze traffic and commuting patterns alongside housing data. The GRFR experiences 26,000 commuters every day, the majority say they get to work in a single-occupancy vehicle. Commuters said that the price of housing is the number one factor that leads them to commute. Twenty percent of survey respondents said they would elect to pay more for housing if it meant they were able to walk or bike to work, restaurants and entertainment.

Alycin Bektesh is a reporter for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at Alycin@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @alycinwonder.