Author and activist Auden Schendler wrote a recent column for Outside Magazine where he called for more density at the core of ski resorts to house employees. Some in Aspen, where Schendler is Vice President of Sustainability for the Aspen Skiing Company, freaked out and accused him of wanting to turn a “still thriving” Aspen into a s%*thole like New Jersey. Kind of an overreaction, yes?
I wonder what Winter Park would be like with some real focused core housing either in Old Town or New Winter Park. I’d argue that the place would be jumping with the infusion of a thousand or so worker bees buzzing around the bars and restaurants.
A quick glance at affordablehousingonline.com shows that Winter Park has exactly zero low income apartments or properties. Total rent assisted apartments? You guessed it. Zero. The percentage of housing units occupied by renters in Winter Park is just over 20 percent. There are 253 housing units. This is a small, expensive town.
There is plenty of density around Aspen, just not in the housing department. Aspen is still thriving but thick traffic and lack of affordable housing makes it thrive with pollution and one percenters. I would argue that Aspen thrived more between 1955 and 1995 when you could still find a place to live and the funky people were on the streets mixing it up with Texans and celebrities.
I’m not bitter. I still love Aspen. I dig the resort life that you can get in a place like Winter Park. I don’t think that building some employee or affordable housing downtown in Aspen, Steamboat or Winter Park will ruin the quality of life, even for those in the castles.
Employees and low income people like me are not muggers, rapists, drug addicts and bums. We appreciate being in this beautiful place as much as anyone. We are skiers and riders, nature lovers, musicians, teachers, nonprofit workers, firemen, first responders, law enforcement, luggage handlers and artists.
The Town of Winter Park is working on an attainable housing program. You can check it out and give your input at wpgov.com. The plan is in its infancy but at least the local government is talking about it and coming up with something. The mission of the program is “to strengthen the social and economic well-being of our community by providing safe, attainable housing to our residents and our workforce.”
That’s a lofty and progressive goal and I couldn’t be more supportive. This is the kind of forward-thinking community engineering that you will will not find in a rural area without a rich resort. The time to act on this stuff is now. As challenging as it is to include low income housing in a red hot construction economy, it will not get easier or less expensive when the land is all gobbled up by the highest bidders.
Market forces may not generate a lot of affordable housing. Short term vacation rentals have gobbled up inventory in many resort communities, including here. Some friends of mine live in subsidized housing in Winter Park. Their modest affordable place puts them in the heart of the action and they spend plenty of their hard earned money and precious time right here in the back yard.
I applaud Winter Park’s goal to provide “an opportunity for the local workforce to become invested in the Town through homeownership.”
In Aspen they talked about housing for decades. Some affordable housing has been built but the situation remains critical in the land of milk and honey. Here in Winter Park, there’s an opportunity but it will take money and resolve and some very creative governance. If that’s not in place for starters they should just give up now. The road to the affordable housing is paved in thousands of hours of the best intentions.
Aspen has just merged with other resorts including Winter Park. Do not look to them for your resort housing solutions. They are very good at the high end stuff, though.
Steve Skinner would like to see some central housing in Winter Park. It won’t ruin town. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.