Aspen to prioritize increase of affordable housing units over next five years

Aspen

City of Aspen staff presented an update on the 2022-26 affordable housing strategic plan to Aspen City Council during a work session on Monday.

The plan is a part of the council’s affordable housing goal and was adopted in April. The goal is to increase the number of affordable housing units within Aspen’s limits. It includes 14 action items ranging from ongoing affordable housing projects to city legislation and policy creation at the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority. 

“The overarching goal of the strategic plan was to deliver a total of 500 affordable housing units by 2026,” said Liz Axberg, the city’s housing policy analyst. “This would be units in the Aspen urban-growth boundary, achieved through both new development and development-neutral approaches as well. It could be private sector, public sector or by the city of Aspen, as well.” 

Development-neutral approaches are tactics that the city is pursuing that will not involve new construction, such as buying down existing units. 

Several of the action items include ongoing development projects, like the Lumberyard and Burlingame Phase 3 projects. The land use application for the Lumberyard project has been submitted, and demolition and construction are expected to begin in 2024. The Burlingame project experienced construction delays and is thus 85% complete; unit sales are expected to begin in 2023. 

The plan also includes steps to provide policy and financial resources for affordable housing. The recent moratoria on short-term rentals and new residential development resulted in legislation such as Ordinances 13 and 14 and a new excise tax on STRs that will contribute to these steps, Axberg said. 

“Both of these ordinances include components that incentivize affordable-housing development,” she said. “First, they have now a separate review process for affordable-housing projects. This helps expedite affordable-housing projects and cut down review time, and thereby the costs also of reviewing those projects for proposals, as well.” 

The STR tax, which was approved by Aspen voters last week via ballot question 2A, is part of a goal to develop financial resources for affordable housing. A debt issuance for the Lumberyard and a potential extension of the real estate transfer tax sunset date are also included under that action item. 

The strategic plan also includes steps to increase APCHA policy and compliance. The APCHA board has directed staff to begin creating a right-sizing pilot program in which homeowners will be able to swap units with each other on a voluntary basis. The hope is that this program will allow homeowners with empty bedrooms to downsize to smaller units and leave the larger ones available for families who need them. 

Mayor Torre asked if APCHA had had discussions about how to prevent bedrooms from becoming empty and remaining so. Matthew Gillen, executive director of APCHA, told him that the housing authority does not monitor the assets of homeowners after they purchase a unit and therefore doesn’t have a way of preventing bedrooms from emptying. He added that discussions have not yet been held at board meetings. 

“The way it’s been traditionally is you have the 1,500 hours [of employment in Pitkin County], you have to own your house, you have to not own another house in the Owner(ship) Exclusion Zone, but we have not been in the business of monitoring people’s lives after that,” Gillen said. “As long as they fulfill those three requirements, we don’t look at their finances except for in terms of them owning investment properties in the (OEZ).” 

APCHA is also making an effort to increase their responsiveness to compliance complaints. The organization included a request in its 2023 budget for a compliance analyst who would review complaints and compliance practices. Axberg said there are two cases currently being heard by APCHA’s hearing officer for lease violations, and in one case, for owning property outside of the OEZ. 

Council members said they liked the hearing program and thought it was beneficial to APCHA to have a process for hearing compliance cases. 

“I think this is particularly beneficial to the board — that the board doesn’t have to be involved in these life decisions,” Councilman Ward Hauenstein said. “I really appreciate that compliance has been taken to the staff level instead of the voluntary board level.” 

Council also thanked staff for their work on the strategic plan and noted that Aspen is doing more to address affordable housing than most if any other mountain communities. Torre said he was proud of the city for taking on the challenge. 

“As I look back over the last few years, I think that this work is the best work that we’ve done to literally get everybody on the same page,” he said. “Let’s both exercise our patience as well as our prowess as we move forward. There are some really complex, complicated questions to answer throughout this, and if we all continue to collaborate and work together, we can get to those best practices and best solutions.” 

By: Megan Webber I Aspen Daily News I November 15, 2022


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