More than Two-Thirds of Aspen’s Occupied Homes are Deed-Restricted

Stephanie Kroll

In the picturesque landscapes of Aspen, where snow-capped mountains and luxurious ski resorts draw visitors from around the world, a lesser-known challenge is quietly being met head-on: affordable housing. Aspen's Smuggler Park neighborhood, with its unique requirements for local resident occupancy, plays a crucial role in contributing to the significant proportion of deed-restricted units that constitute Aspen's affordable housing supply. A recent study by the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments (NWCCOG) and the Colorado Association of Ski Towns (CAST) sheds light on the progress made by Aspen and other mountain communities in addressing the affordable housing crisis.

Aspen's Impressive Deed-Restricted Housing Landscape: According to the 2023 Workforce Housing Report, an astounding 70% of full-time-occupied residential housing units in Aspen are deed-restricted, making it the second-highest rate among 38 rural and resort communities in Colorado and five out-of-state ski towns. This commitment to affordable housing is a testament to Aspen's longstanding efforts, dating back to the mid-1970s when deed-restricted workforce housing initiatives were first introduced.

The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA) manages approximately 3,200 deed-restricted units in Aspen and Pitkin County, making it the largest system of affordable housing per capita in the nation. The success of Aspen's program is attributed to its age, efficient management, and the strategic use of the real estate transfer tax (RETT), a valuable tool generating funds for affordable housing projects.

Aspen's success in maintaining a high number of deed-restricted units and a higher occupancy rate compared to other resort towns can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, the longevity of Aspen's deed-restricted housing program sets it apart, indicating a commitment to affordable housing that predates many of its peers. Additionally, the real estate transfer tax (RETT), with its 1.5% levy on property sales, has proven to be a critical funding source for housing projects. In 2021 alone, the RETT generated $21 million for Aspen's housing initiatives.

The 2023 Workforce Housing Report not only highlights Aspen's achievements but also provides a comprehensive view of housing strategies across 43 jurisdictions, including nearby downvalley communities such as Basalt, Carbondale, and Glenwood Springs. While Aspen boasts a 70% occupancy rate, other resort towns like Vail (32%), Telluride (48%), and Breckenridge (23%) face different challenges.

Glenwood Springs, for instance, faces a relatively newer regulatory program, resulting in a lower percentage of deed-restricted units. However, the city is actively addressing this by reinstating inclusionary-housing requirements and reviewing proposals for duplexes and triplexes with affordability restrictions. Despite having fewer deed-restricted units, Glenwood Springs offers a more affordable housing market, with median sale prices significantly lower than those in upvalley Aspen.

Additional Measures: The report underscores various initiatives undertaken by these communities to mitigate the housing crisis. These include regulations on short-term rentals (STRs), partnerships, encouraging accessory dwelling units (ADUs), and zoning codes mandating affordable housing in new developments. Notably, Glenwood Springs and Aspen have implemented measures to regulate STRs, ensuring the preservation of existing housing stock.

Despite the progress, construction costs remain a significant obstacle to affordable housing, varying widely across different towns. Aspen, with an average construction cost for a one-bedroom unit at $563,000, faces a pressing need for 956 additional affordable units. The City Council's goal of achieving 500 affordable housing units within the 2022-26 timeframe reflects the ongoing commitment to addressing this challenge.

Aspen's dedication to affordable housing, reflected in its impressive percentage of deed-restricted units, serves as a beacon for other mountain communities facing similar housing crises. The 2023 Workforce Housing Report provides valuable insights into diverse strategies employed by these communities, showcasing a collective effort to ensure that residents, both current and future, can enjoy the stunning landscapes without sacrificing housing security. The journey toward affordable housing is ongoing, with each community's unique approach contributing to a broader conversation about sustainable solutions for the high-mountain living experience.


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