Aspen leads the way in affordable mountain housing

A real estate transfer tax makes it possible

While the median home price in Aspen has eclipsed $3 million, the city has a robust affordable housing program, thanks in large part to a grandfathered real estate transfer tax. (TABOR explicitly bans new transfer taxes.) Established in 1974, the program was the first in any mountain resort town in North America.

“Aspen really led the way. They were the trailblazers in the 1970s and 1980s,” says Mike Kosdrosky, executive director of the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA). “It’s a pretty spectacular example of deed-restricted housing. It’s double any other resort community I know of.”

The affordable inventory now includes almost 3,000 deed-restricted units, especially impressive when you consider Aspen’s year-round population is about 6,500. New units typically sell for $80,000 to $400,000, with annual appreciation capped at 3 percent, and monthly rents are generally $400 to $2,000.

It’s still not a panacea, as 53 percent of Aspen’s work force commutes from Glenwood Springs and other points down valley, but only 10 percent of APCHA’s homeowners and 23 percent of renters of APCHA’s deed-restricted units are burdened by housing costs, numbers that are notably lower than the rest of the state. 

Beyond the deed-restricted units, a solid stock of employee housing helps temper demand, including 600 units from Aspen Skiing Co. The school district also has employee housing. Kosdrosky says “making sure the business community is involved” is a key to success.

“Whether it’s Denver or a service-based economy in a mountain resort town, this is an economic development program first and foremost,” explains Kosdrosky. “Treating the two as separate issues is a mistake.”

What would Aspen be like without its affordable housing program? “A ghost town,” Kosdrosky responds. “Everybody recognizes – from the billionaires to the millionaires to the waitresses and the bartenders – without the workforce affordable housing program, there wouldn’t be a local economy. There wouldn’t be a community.”

It follows that voters have approved the real estate transfer tax three times. It was last extended in 2008 until 2040.

Categories: Magazine Articles, Real Estate