School employees in Aspen unable to buy homes may leave district
ASPEN ” Aspen school officials have concluded that a majority of their employees are in rental housing, and, unless they are somehow able to buy their homes, many might end up leaving the district soon.
A recent employee survey also shows that a third of the district’s employees are unhappy with their current housing, would like to own their homes and can afford a fairly hefty mortgage if given the chance to buy.
The survey, which drew 153 responses from the district’s 229 employees, was designed to give the district administration an idea of how many teachers, bus drivers, office workers and other employees might want an opportunity to buy into government-subsidized housing.
Board member Laura Kornasiewicz put the survey together, explaining in an introductory statement that the district is preparing to enter into a partnership with other local entities that need to come up with affordable housing for their employees.
She said the district is eyeing a number of development possibilities, including building additional homes at the West Ranch project in Woody Creek, putting housing on the site of the district’s bus maintenance facility at the public schools campus on Maroon Creek Road, and getting involved in whatever ultimately is built at the BMC West site recently purchased by the city of Aspen, among others.
In a summary presented to the Aspen School Board on Feb. 25, Kornasiewicz said 63 percent of the district’s employee live in the upper valley ” either in Aspen, Snowmass or Woody Creek ” with the remainder living downvalley or in the Interstate 70 corridor between Glenwood Springs and Rifle.
That is a change from earlier findings, Kornasiewicz said, noting that a 2001 survey revealed that 55 percent of district employees were living outside the district’s boundaries. She surmised the shift is because of the loss of affordable housing in the downvalley communities, which might have pushed district employees back upvalley and into the rental housing market, she told her fellow board members.
Of the respondents, Kornasiewicz wrote in her summary, “33 percent  … are dissatisfied with their current housing.”
The survey results indicate that 67 percent of the respondents live in rental housing, and nearly a half of those are either in housing controlled by the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority or in district-owned apartments or condos. Of the 24 percent who own their homes, 18 percent are in free-market houses or condos, and 6 percent are in deed-restricted apartments or condos. Nine percent, Kornasiewicz reported, are in “some other living arrangement,” whether with a family member, occupying a caretaker unit or something else.
The survey revealed that more than three-quarters of those “dissatisfied” respondents spend between $1,250 and $2,250 per month on housing, and that approximately 55 percent of them are considering leaving within the next couple of years. The survey also reported that the median gross household income of the district’s employees is $75,000 per year, or $6,250 per month.
Given those financial parameters, Kornasiewicz calculated that nearly half of the “dissatisfied” employees could qualify for mortgages of $400,000 or higher and that all but 15 percent or so could qualify for loans of $255,000 or higher.
As part of the effort to help employees find affordable housing, the district has hired local real estate agent Sally Shiekman-Miller to both manage the inventory of district-owned employee housing and to help employees purchase homes from the local housing authority.
Shiekman-Miller, as well as board members and administrators, were expected at a meeting Thursday afternoon called “Housing 101,” at which employees were to be coached on how to make the most of the local affordable housing market.
In addition, school district officials are planning to meet with representatives of other government bodies in the coming weeks to talk about what options might be available to the district’s employees in the near future.
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