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Money key to affordable housing

Speakers say increase in second-home owners a problem

Christine Metz

— In a panel that mixed statistical and empirical data, speakers said affordable housing was a regional problem and one that is exacerbated by second-home owners.

A planning and design professor, Pitkin County commissioner and town mayor talked about the problems and solutions to affordable housing during the morning session of the international conference Mountain Resort Planning and Development in an Era of Globalization, which is being held here.

Thomas Clark, a professor at the University of Colorado at Denver, said affordable housing is a regional problem that extends beyond the mountain resort. While resort communities have a larger tax base through sales or property taxes, the real burdens of unaffordable housing are often felt in the surrounding communities where cheaper housing and many of the resort workers can be found.

“The solution is a regional tax base, some way to interconnect the communities,” he said. “As it stands today, those surrounding communities are really subsidizing those resort communities.”

Clark showed graphs that linked changes in population to changes in median income, changes in population to changes in the rent to income ratio and changes in median household income to changes in percent of all resident workers engaged in resort services from 1990 to 2000. And in the last graph, he showed that a group of resorts had a linear relationship between the percent of people who are below the poverty line and the percent of residents working in tourist services.

After showing the data, Clark said the solution to affordable housing does not lie with changing the demand by paying workers more money.

“The best answer is to give employees the income to afford housing, but that hasn’t happened and it won’t happen. So, we can’t expect the demand side of the equation to provide the solution,” he said.

Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland was not looking at the demand side either. He believes money is the solution to affordable housing and it can come through a sales tax or Real Estate Transfer Tax, both of which his county institutes.

Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper read from a paper written by Ireland, who was scheduled to speak at the conference but had to meet with transportation officials in Denver.

Money, he wrote, can be used to buy existing mobile home parks to sell to residents, to buy land to sell to developers on the condition of creating affordable units and to give rental owners a payment in return for agreement to charge reasonable rents.

“All of that is not as costly as it sounds,” Clapper read from Ireland’s paper. “The alternative to not building housing means importing a worker base, losing sales tax revenue, creating more highways and losing a sense of community.”

Ireland pointed out the increase of second-home owners and the influx of wealth means one-time residences that were bought with mortgages and paid for by renting rooms to local workers are now sealed up and security screened for part-time residences and investment properties.

He also noted a single residence of 5,000 square feet could draw 30 different service workers or agencies, who can’t afford to live in the mountain resort community. He also claimed with the decrease in local population and a second-home owner population focused on non-taxable personal services, Aspen’s retail sector is declining.

“A downtown core that once offered three bookstores, two hardware stores and two drug stores now has none of the above. Offices dedicated to real estate sales showrooms and high-end luxury goods outlets now proliferate where local service businesses once stood,” Clapper read from Ireland’s paper.

Winter Park Mayor Nick Teverbaugh also talked about the failure and success of Grand County’s housing authority.

The conference, which is part of the United Nations’ Year of the Mountain celebration, ends today. Sponsored by CU-Denver, the conference brought residents, planners, elected officials, academics and consultants from across the country and the world to Steamboat for four days.


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