Housing study survey shows 37% of Aspen-area workforce plans to retire within next decade

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times


A housing needs analysis was recently completed for the region stretching from Aspen to Glenwood Springs and Battlement Mesa to Eagle.

The “Greater Roaring Fork Regional Housing Study” was completed by a Denver firm called Economic & Planning Systems Inc. A draft was released in February then refined after participating governments critiqued it.

As a result, the study transformed from a somewhat stiff and technical assessment that would be presented at a land-use planners’ convention into an easy-to-read commentary packed with supporting evidence.

The study’s findings will be presented to local governments; elected boards over the next two months.

The study was undertaken after two Roaring Fork Valley residents, Bill Lamont and David Myler, launched an initiative to get regional governments working together to solve the affordable housing shortage.

The Aspen area’s affordable-housing crunch is bound to become even more severe in the next decade due to the number of people in the workforce who plan to retire, according to a new housing needs analysis.

The study by Economic & Planning Systems Inc. determined that the population over 65 years of age will increase by 7,800 people or about 60 percent over the next decade in the Roaring Fork Valley and Interstate 70 corridor between Parachute and Eagle.

The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority already has recognized the aging population as a major issue it will grapple with. This latest study demonstrates it is a regional issue.

Many older residents of the region were able to secure housing when the gap between household income and real estate prices wasn’t so drastic. As they leave the workforce, they will be replaced by workers who will have a tougher time getting a toehold in the housing market.

Economic & Planning Systems conducted a survey of residents of the region to get a feel for retirement plans.

“Survey results suggest that the retirement challenges are likely to be felt on a continuing basis over the next 10 years,” the study said.

In the region as a whole, 11 percent of respondents ages 50 and older said they plan to retire in the next two or three years. Another 13 percent of respondents said they will retire in the next four to six years and yet another 13 percent said they will retire in seven to 10 years.

The same retirement wave is reflected in Aspen and Snowmass Village, where 37 percent of respondents 50 years of age and older said they will retire within a decade.

“When asked to look ahead to their retirement, most respondents aged 50 older indicated a high likelihood of staying within the region, with Aspen-Snowmass residents indicating the highest likelihood,” the study continued. “Additionally, most respondents indicated that they were unlikely to rent or purchase a smaller home, suggesting a preference to age in place.

“These results suggest that much of the housing stock will not turn over as residents retire, thereby exacerbating some of the housing shortages faced,” the study said.

That led Economic & Planning Systems Inc. to conclude the regional housing shortage will become more severe by 2027, factoring in job creation trends and affordable-housing construction patterns.

The region currently has a shortfall of about 2,100 units for households that earn 60 percent or less of the area median income and a shortfall of about 1,900 units for households at 100 to 160 percent of the area median income, the study said.

By 2027, the shortfall for households at 100 to 160 percent of the AMI will decrease to 1,100. That reflects the type of affordable housing that is in the pipeline to be built.

However, the need for housing for lower-income families will soar by 2027, the study concluded. The shortfall for families below 60 percent of AMI will increase to nearly 2,400 units.

A shortfall of about 3,300 units will materialize for households between 60 and 100 percent of AMI, the study said. That’s based on factors such as job creation trends and affordable-housing construction patterns.

Currently, the corridors between Gypsum and Eagle and New Castle and Parachute are providing more housing than needed by workers in those areas, the study said. In contrast, Aspen and Snowmass Village already have a 3,000-unit shortfall and it is expected to grow over the next decade, the study said.

That results in people hitting the roads between home and work.

“More than 26,000 workers, out of 47,000 employed residents, cross paths in their daily commute versus just 19,000 employed residents who live where they work,” the study said.

Aspen and Snowmass Village import an average of 7,500 workers per day. Glenwood Springs imports 2,400 workers. The other areas are exporters.

“From a policy perspective, these cross-commuting patterns are what happens when the ‘market is left to its own devices,’” the study said. “That is, the market may be ‘taking care of itself,’ but it is not taking care of these workers’ quality of life, at least for those who would rather not commute as far.”

The study doesn’t make recommendations on solving the regional affordable-housing shortage. The intent was providing a picture on current conditions and how the shortage may expand by 2027.

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