Resort housing troubles squeezing federal agencies
ASPEN ” The Western landscapes that attract tourists and wealthy second- and third-home owners are increasingly too pricey for the federal employees tasked with managing them.
The lack of affordable housing has left agencies across the region scrambling to hire and keep employees as well as finance basic maintenance and construction for existing facilities. Officials said that strains already tight resources needed to cover millions of acres of land.
Irene Davidson, a district ranger for the White River National Forest, said the ballooning costs of living and construction are pricing out the federal agencies and employees managing public lands.
“The White River is the premier recreational forest in the country,” Davidson said. “So people flock here and drive the prices up, and that drives down our ability to afford to live here.”
Housing problems in Western resort communities aren’t exclusive to federal agencies. Aspen is having a tough time retaining police officers because of expensive and scarce housing.
Other federal agencies are struggling, too.
The Glenwood Springs office of the Bureau of Land Management plans to move to a new building in Silt because it has outgrown its current space and needs a big storage yard for heavy equipment and other items. The staff has doubled in size since 2005 due in part to the natural gas boom in western Garfield County.
“We had hoped to keep the office in Glenwood Springs,” said BLM Field Manager Jamie Connell, but “this added space makes it that much more of a challenge to find an (affordable, available) building in a community like this, or in the Roaring Fork Valley.”
Last month, the Bridger-Teton National Forest in northwest Wyoming announced that the Forest Service is considering selling the forest supervisor’s office in pricey Jackson, Wyo., to private developers and moving down the road to Alpine, Afton or Pinedale, where housing is cheaper.
The costs aren’t that much lower, though. Bridger-Teton spokeswoman Mary Cernicek said Alpine is in the midst of a building moratorium and housing is sparse and relatively costly in Pinedale, in the thick of a natural gas boom.
Federal officials are promoting changes to the government’s cost-of-living adjustment for employees in expensive areas. The system pays more to employees in urban areas, such as Denver, than it does to rural employees, even if the rural area is the Aspen area, where the median home price is in the millions of dollars.
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