Sunday Cover

Wapiti Commons is a landmark project in Rifle built by Habitat for Humanity and designed as affordable housing for the regional workforce. Qualified residents become owners of deed-restricted townhomes and condominiums, some of which are still under construction. 


Editor’s note: This is the final story in Aspen Journalism’s 10-part series titled “In Search of Community.” This installment and the previous one, which was published June 3, address housing as a social need and a formidable task for every community in the region. This story looks specifically at a variety of emerging solutions and commensurate challenges. Read the entire series at

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The regional housing crisis is rife with both challenges and opportunities for communities from Aspen to Parachute. Perhaps the most optimistic sign is the growing awareness — socially, economically and politically — of how housing underscores community health, vitality and sustainability. This cohesive awareness is a critical step toward communities addressing together a shared burden.

A stark reminder was reported in the Wednesday, June 5 Aspen Times, revealing that the Aspen School District’s Moody’s credit rating is taking a hit because of a low general fund reserve balance. A lack of affordable teacher housing also factored in: “The credit profile of Aspen School District is supported by Aspen’s highly-affluent economy, anchored by world-renowned Aspen and Snowmass Ski Resorts,” reported the Times, quoting a document from the rating agency. “Property value appreciation has accelerated in recent years due to strong demand in the area, including a 58% increase in assessed valuations for fiscal year 2024 to $5.5 billion. However, this economic strength and significant rise in property values presents challenges related to cost of living and housing affordability for district staff, which makes it more difficult for the district to attract and retain teachers, and subsequently increases the operating costs of the district.”

The housing issue has become a pressing concern throughout the region, where necessity becomes the mother of invention as seen in varied approaches striving to address a growing community crisis.

3-Mile Park inspires ownership conversion

In 2014, Brianda Cervantes emigrated from Mexico, where she was born and raised. She came to the United States as a promising young woman with a law degree, first locating in Carbondale, then Glenwood Springs, where she has lived for a year working as a housing advocate for residents of 3-Mile Mobile Home Park, on the south end of Glenwood Springs.

“I came to Glenwood Springs for this opportunity,” she said, “because, as a single mother with my son, housing stability means a lot to me. I wanted to help others through what I know from my own life experience, which I do with passion.”

Cervantes sees her role as more than a job. She sees it as a mission for building community through an ownership conversion where residents of the 20-unit park have been renters, some for more than 30 years. Now, they are on a path to become owners through an innovative approach involving partnerships and subsidies.

“These are people who never imagined they could become owners,” Cervantes said, “and now that we’re involved, it has been a life-changing experience. This park can be theirs one day, their families are going to be stable, they don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen next, and that brings safety and comfort for them.”

Housing security as a social-justice goal is the drive behind the 3-Mile conversion, thanks to Manaus, a regional nonprofit that advocates for community values in the Roaring Fork Valley. To make the conversion possible, Manaus reinstated the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. (RFCDC) to act as the financial entity that will ensure an affordable sale to the park owners. 

“We knew that 3-Mile residents were interested in a self-purchase,” said Sydney Schalit, director of Manaus. Too small for a traditional resident occupied community (ROC) model, which requires 25 or more units and comes with financing from the state of Colorado, the 3-Mile Park conversion required that Manaus become the chief advocate and the RFCDC the financial backer, making a three-way partnership with park residents.

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Sydney Schalit, director of Manaus, stands with Brianda Cervantes, housing advocate for residents of 3-Mile Mobile Home Park on the south end of Glenwood Springs. 

The first hurdle was cultivating a “friendly seller,” meaning owners who would discount the price of the 14-acre site as a social good. Schalit said that Manaus intervened early in the process when it became clear that the children of long-time park owner Ben Krueger, who passed away in 2021, were prepared to sell. “They ended up becoming friendly sellers,” Schalit said. RFCDC struck a deal to buy the park from the Kruegers for $2.4 million and the sale closed in April 2023.

The park’s decades-long residents were personally invested because their kids and now grandkids live there. This became a strong incentive for the conversion. Now that the process is underway, Manaus, which is planning to wind down its operations late this year, intends to spin off the RFCDC and set it up for success to operate independently, similar to several other nonprofits previously incubated by Manaus. To facilitate the handoff, Manaus will provide a final round of operational grant funding to the RFCDC and assist in the assembly of a skilled and dedicated board of directors to guide it through the transition and the successful completion of resident ownership.

Housing as a humanitarian need reflects the mission of Manaus, self-described as “a social justice nonprofit that works in partnership with others to help create sustainable solutions to issues that further equity within our communities using the principles of community organizing and co-design to invest in solutions designed for, with and by the most vulnerable communities.”

The word “manaus” is Portuguese for “the meeting of waters,” a metaphor for beneficial social confluence as identified by its late founder, George Stranahan, who posited this: “Traditional charity tends to be doing it to them or doing it for them. Manaus is building a model where we do it with them. The model is a conscious effort to build a partnership of equals.”

Other Manaus incubations include The Savings Collaborative — formerly LaMedichi — which supports community members with opportunities for financial literacy and stability; The Third Street Center in Carbondale, which serves as a critical professional and cultural hub by housing nonprofits, artists and the community since its launch in 2010; Mountain Voices Project, which was launched in 2019 and is building civic leaders in the community and helping to hold public systems accountable; and the Confluence Early Childhood Education (CECE) Coalition project, which, since 2017, has been working to improve access to early care and education for all members of the Parachute-to-Aspen region. Manaus has also been a supporter of Aspen Journalism and provided seed funding in 2011, shortly after the organization launched.

During a walk in the park with Schalit and Cervantes on a sunny April morning, there was a palpable spirit of hope and promise in the air, and also the rush of 3-Mile Creek, which flows through the area. And when a small flock of domestic chickens strutted across the commons, there was an added note of rural homespun independence in a place where park children walk to a nearby school, and a mutual sense of neighborliness abides.

“They’re really a beautiful community,” Cervantes said. “They care for each other. They’re willing to work together. It’s a small community and everybody feels welcome when they come together. They ask how they can help each other. And that’s inspiring.”

Schalit, who was born in Conifer, Colorado, and grew up in southern Texas, has applied her unique blend of marketing entrepreneurship and Peace Corps-veteran values (she served in the African nation of Mali) to the park, home to 100 residents — 30 of whom are children younger than 18 and about 10 of whom are seniors or are on disability.

“In the last year, we’ve had really significant involvement with the community in which Brianda has been very instrumental,” Schalit said. “Bringing on Brianda was critical because she is Latina and is a bilingual and bicultural community organizer, which serves well in a park where 65% of families are Latino or Spanish speaking. She has had similar experiences to the residents as an immigrant who has had housing challenges in the valley and has a deep sense of community.”

Commitment to community, said Cervantes, came from her grandfather in Mexico: “When I was 5 years old — because of my family situation — I was raised by my grandfather, and we had a really strong connection. He was the first person that I found with a beautiful heart toward his community. He never went to school, but he was a politician at heart, always caring for his community. He was responsible for his community having water and all the basic services required to live. He taught me how to do hard work. He has been my role model and an inspirational person for me. That’s where my passion comes from because he had a vision for me to help communities.

“If I can impact my community and the people around me in a positive way, I will do it. When I came to the United States, I had to handle so many struggles. God put me in better positions than I had before, so now it’s time for me to give back because I’m feeling so grateful to be in the position I’m in.”

Cervantes has a key role at 3-Mile Park, said Schalit. 

“She has helped residents form subcommittees to bring them into constructive decision-making and help them consider and frame how they are going to run the park with their own management opportunities and bank accounts,” Schalit said. “Community meetings have agendas and residents bring up issues. Meetings are always facilitated and always interpreted live with Convey Language Solutions, which has been a great partner to make sure we have language justice at every meeting. And it’s never English focused; it’s Spanish focused, where English speakers are on the headsets.”

Schalit said the RFCDC’s 3-Mile Park purchase was made possible with debt structured so that the first three years of payments cover only interest, which the individual space rents fully pay, plus a small amount added to pay down the principal. “We’re going to try to buy down the cost of the park with some fancy lending opportunities for the residents,” Schalit said, “because there are a lot of agencies interested in supporting the purchase by the residents and a nonprofit landlord, so we’re really optimistic.” Eventually, the park will be sold to the residents as a collective. Residents’ rental payments will cover their collective debt, expenses and park improvements. Together, they will own, operate and manage the park.

A conversion such as 3-Mile’s meets many crucial criteria for regional affordable housing: It serves existing residents of a target demographic. It does not represent new growth and exists in an advantageous location. It empowers resident owners to be independent and innovative. It leads toward improvements based on pride of ownership. Most of all, it ensures housing security for its residents.

Neighborhoods, critical workforce and modular homes

The nonprofit Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley is striving to build homes for $305 per square foot and sell them for $200 per square foot to meet an 80% of area median income level for teachers, nurses and other essential workers.

According to Gail Schwartz, president of Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley, this is part of the organization’s pledge to create a housing pool for workers without tying them to a particular job through employer-provided housing, which creates vulnerability for families or individuals.

“Affordable housing is part of our infrastructure,” said Schwartz, “like building a bridge or a road — deed-restricted in perpetuity to be affordable. We have to stabilize housing. We visit every family we work with and witness the conditions in which they are living, the instability and stress they are under, and the dislocation. That’s a problem, and yet we expect them to function as professionals?”

Addressing existing housing, Habitat for Humanity is creating opportunities for older adults to downsize and stay in the community, ensuring housing diversity while freeing up housing stock that is appropriate for incoming workers. Toward that goal, the organization has built Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible, one-bed flex units in Rifle to support older adults so they can downsize and still own.

Seeing the need for an expansive affordable housing push, Habitat’s Roaring Fork chapter broke from the nonprofit’s traditional volunteer-driven, one-house-at-a-time model in 2018 when it began construction on the 27-home Basalt Vista development.

The first homeowners moved into the new neighborhood, on a sunny slope behind Basalt High School, in 2019 to great fanfare and the project won the local chapter national recognition, as reported by Andrew Travers for Aspen Journalism in 2022. The experience spurred the local Habitat leadership to find even-larger-scale housing solutions and less-expensive construction than the $12.8 million Basalt undertaking.

Habitat tweaked the Basalt Vista model for the Wapiti Commons project in Rifle, which broke ground in March 2022, using a thriftier panel-built construction for a 20-unit development. The first homeowners moved in February and Habitat expects to wrap up construction before the end of the year.

“One local teacher of 12 years lived in a rental,” Schwartz said. “When she had her second child, that child slept in the bathroom — in the bathtub. She bought a unit at Basalt Vista, and they are in for the long game.”

And so is Habitat for Humanity, where energy and resource efficiency are development goals. “We build only net-zero homes,” said Schwartz, who gave an example of a new Habitat for Humanity housing development where “homeowners are paying $14 per month for all utilities but water, with onsite solar and built-in efficiencies that are a perpetual benefit.” Residents live in their own dwellings with minimal financial stress, Schwartz said. “Affordable mortgage. Affordable utilities. That’s affordability!”

Residential consistency ensures housing security and manifests ideal possibilities, Schwartz said, adding, “We believe in ownership because that is how we stabilize the community. We all want the American dream, and for that, we need to have a bold vision and bold leaders.”

She added that Habitat is putting in an offer to purchase a two-year-old 88-unit Glenwood Springs apartment building that was developed as free-market rentals. If the purchase is successful, Habitat will convert the units to condominiums and sell them with a deed restriction to local workers.

Schwartz urges local governments to raise the affordable housing bar for new development far above the region’s average of 10% to 30% of new units required to be deed-restricted. “We need 70% affordable housing,” she said, to ensure housing for essential services such as “education, health care, emergency services and transportation — all of which suffer without housing. What happens when you need an ambulance in Aspen and the driver lives in New Castle? Have you tried to call a plumber lately?”

Dave Myler of West Mountain Regional Housing Coalition ups the ante even higher: “I’d like to see new developments have 80% affordable housing, not the 20% we’re getting now. We don’t need more second homes. We need affordable housing.”

No single solution is going to resolve the housing problem, said Schwartz, who advocates a triple front that establishes housing as the top priority for regional nonprofit support. “There are three solutions: bold leadership, philanthropic engagement and public/private partnerships,” she said. “Sure, it’s nice to have museums and culture, but every one of those nonprofits needs to house their employees. Who do they call? Habitat.”

In addition to building homes, the organization is in the process of constructing a modular housing plant in Rifle on 10 acres where a team of trained workers can build upward of 100 homes each year, training 100 students per year in advanced manufacturing in the process. This $12.8 million net-zero production and education facility, expected to break ground later this year, could be transformational for this region. Specifically, Habitat for Humanity said, “This facility will contribute to the region’s economic development and is projected to have 27 full-time employees. It is designed to diversify the workforce and economy for careers of the future.”

“When you train an advanced manufacturing workforce in the Colorado River Valley, you attract new investment and create jobs there,” Schwartz said. “And good luck to the resort communities when we have jobs for these young professionals to work in the communities where they live. This is a game changer because we’re taking it to scale. We have a workforce deficit, and we are moving ahead.”

Meanwhile, at Habitat for Humanity’s Restore, a 40,000-square-foot warehouse outside Glenwood Springs, 30 employees assist customers in repurposing 3,000 tons of homebuilding goods a year — windows, doors, furniture — in another move toward housing affordability.

Insatiable housing demand

“Jobs are plentiful and employees are in demand throughout the Roaring Fork Valley,” Schwartz wrote in a May newsletter to Habitat for Humanity supporters. “The 2019 housing study showed that our region, from Aspen to Parachute, would require 5,700 new homes for existing workforce families by 2027. We have, in fact, surpassed that mark today due to the impacts of COVID-19 and the ever-increasing prices of local housing stock.”

Although scalable action on workforce and community housing is underway in some sectors, the housing need mounts, with no peak in sight. A January housing forum at Willits was a “coming out” event for West Mountain Regional Housing Coalition nonprofit and yet was headlined in the Aspen Daily News as a “grim picture.”

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Chickens have free range at 3-Mile Mobile Home Park thanks to the city of Glenwood Springs allowing poultry raising in certain areas within its urban boundaries.

Aspen Daily News staff writer Austin Corona wrote: “Presenters at the event said West Mountain’s debut is arriving at a time when affordable free-market housing is practically unattainable for local workers in many parts of the Roaring Fork Valley.” Forum participant Mary Coddington of Cappelli Consulting said that “more than 2,000 housing units are currently planned or in development in the Roaring Fork Valley area, though more than half will be listed or rented at market rate,” implying their unavailability to workers, who have the greatest need.

To support greater housing availability in the area and to defray the stigma that affordable housing is a growth generator, West Mountain board member and Pitkin County community resilience manager Ashley Perl said that “rather than constructing new units, the coalition is seeking ‘development-neutral’ approaches.” Perl offered details of three pilot programs that the coalition plans to roll out.

In one program, West Mountain would fund households’ first- and last-month rent payments to help with signing new leases. These payments, which are often rolled up with other costs into an initial deposit, can sometimes add up to about $10,000 for a single household. In another program, West Mountain plans to financially incentivize homeowners throughout the region to build additional dwelling units on their properties and rent them as deed-restricted housing. West Mountain’s largest program will be a “deed-restriction program” or “buy-down program,” in which the coalition will partially subsidize purchases of existing homes for working locals in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys with the condition that buyers place their homes under deed-restrictions to ensure long-term affordability.

To fund these programs, the coalition hopes to bring in donations from private citizens and employers as well as contributions from member organizations and regional governments. West Mountain founder Myler said the coalition has already received contributions between $100,000 and $1 million from local governments and organizations for the deed-restriction program in 2024, and that millions more would be needed to make a dent.

“It takes everybody working together to create a package that helps with this problem,” West Mountain program director April Long said at the close of the forum.

On Feb. 21, Snowmass Village Town Council approved a sketch plan for 80 new affordable workforce housing units on a site above Town Hall — one of the largest projects for workforce housing coming from the town’s 2021 housing master plan. The proposed development would split 80 units between two buildings up to 78 feet tall, with a shared parking garage between the buildings. Some Town Council members had expressed concern about the project in past meetings, citing the size of the two buildings and the steepness of the land, but in the end, they agreed it was important to pursue workforce housing development.

Snowmass Village housing director Betsy Crum said 261 people are on the town’s waitlist for affordable rentals; people can wait years before units become available; and the lack of affordable housing is burdening local businesses. In a survey conducted by the town in December, 90% of local businesses that responded said difficulty with staffing was an issue, and 100% of those businesses said workforce housing assistance was the best way for the town to support their staffing challenges.

“We’ve had Taster’s there since ’01,” Heather Huber, owner of Taster’s Pizza and the Daly Diner, told Town Council, “and we’ve never had such a hard time finding housing for staff. We’ve debated having to close or having to shut down because there’s simply no place for people to live.”

Coincidentally, in February, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent reported completion of the first units at Wapiti Commons in Rifle, a Habitat for Humanity project built on land donated in 2020 by regional developers Clay Crossland and Paul Adams. A celebration included a ceremony of presenting keys of their newly built homes to chosen families and a pledge to keep the momentum going.

A few weeks later, the Post Independent reported another affordable project in the works for Glenwood Springs. The Confluence housing development, at Eighth Street and Midland Avenue, grew out of two city-owned properties offered to bid. One site, on Airport Road, was dropped because of complications from residue from historic coke ovens. The Confluence was chosen and is underway for development by Habitat for Humanity in partnership with the city of Glenwood Springs. The current plan, which drew considerable input from an adjacent 100-home neighborhood, targets Glenwood Springs residents with at least two years of work history and incomes of 80% the area median. The development, approved and in process, entails six net-zero, deed-restricted condominium units.

“We really wanted to maintain the livability of the site and our commitments around the development,” Schwartz said. “These will be beautiful homes.”

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Michael Kinsley is a former Pitkin County commissioner who served on the board from 1975 to 1985. He was instrumental in initiating a countywide affordable housing strategy that later grew into the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA). 

Schwartz said Habitat for Humanity is still in the process of solidifying the project’s overall cost and expects, at a minimum, $1 million needed in subsidies. “And that is where we’re going to come back to the community and ask for support,” she said. 

In the past couple of years, construction costs have gone up 37%, the impacts of which Schwartz said they’ve seen while building 20 homes in Rifle. “We’re foreseeing a little bit of suffering for some of those costs,” she said.

Not in my backyard

Sentiments on new housing construction have become conflicted where neighborhood objections to development proposals have begun to overshadow affordable housing benefits. Resistance often comes from the unlikely source of working-class neighborhoods that are adjacent to parcels where it’s still deemed affordable to build.

A Glenwood Springs project known as 480 Donegan was put forth by R2 Partners to annex West Glenwood property into the city and build 40 townhomes and 230 apartments, a small percentage of which designated affordable. The project was approved by City Council in 2021, but it was overturned in a referendum brought by residents in an April 2022 special election. After the annexation and development were shot down by voters, the property owners switched their plan to storage and commercial development, which won approval and is currently underway.

“It is important to know that 75% of Glenwood employees commute in,” said Schwartz. “The hospital and schools are in desperate need of employees.”

Another potential housing development, Flying M, was voted down by the Garfield County Board of County Commissioners on Nov. 15. The project had proposed 146 two-story market-rate rental townhomes; 12 townhomes exclusively available to Roaring Fork School District employees; 10 accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in the commercial district; eight home sites with ADUs in a single-family residential zone; 12 deed-restricted affordable rental townhome units; and a 12-bed hospice home with two worker dwelling units.

“We’re being pushed really hard for more housing in this county,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said in the Post Independent. He supported the project with this caveat: “Traffic and loss of rural character are real issues, but I think the housing benefits outweigh the deficits.”

His opinion was not shared by soon-to-retire and long-standing Commissioner John Martin, who said, “Have we lost our rural character? Absolutely, but we lost it a long time ago. We’ve lost that rural character in Glenwood Springs. We are now Breckenridge or Aurora. I see the same buildings in Aurora as I do in Glenwood Springs, and I don’t want to see that anymore. I know I’m hanging on to the past, and that has been my nature: to try to stabilize the community and really make the right choices.”

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Jess Montour and daughter enjoy their new home at Habitat for Humanity’s Wapiti Commons in Rifle where they took up residency in April. Six families now reside in this affordable housing neighborhood. 

For Commissioner Mike Samson, his “no” vote was predicated on public sentiment: “All the people who are from that area that spoke today are adamantly opposed to this designed project, and that carries a lot of weight with me because those are the neighbors. That’s their neighborhood, and they’re concerned about it.” The board denied the application, 2-1.

In April, Glenwood Springs voters amplified their concerns on growth and upped their political power over development in a landmark plebiscite known as Ballot Question A, which passed with 78% approval. The Aspen Daily News reported that the measure “added language to the city’s home rule charter that any annexation of land or any residential/mixed-use housing on city-owned land will, after approval from the city, go to a public vote. Additionally, any development permit adding more than four new dwellings will be subject to review by the planning and zoning commission and approval of City Council. Previously, developments of more than eight units required planning and zoning review, and more than 24 units required council approval.”

The ballot question was introduced by Glenwood Springs resident Jon Banks under the banner of a “Keep Glenwood Glenwood” campaign. Banks gathered more than 800 signatures. “We’ve seen often that the council goes in one direction and the people go in a different one,” Banks told the Aspen Daily News in early April. Support for Ballot Question A was garnered from residents who believe that the Glenwood Springs City Council “had not focused enough on quality of life for its current residents,” reported the Daily News.

For Clark Anderson, a community organizer who heads Community Builders, a Glenwood Springs nonprofit, the new legislation adds yet another obstacle to addressing the regional housing crisis.

“I really believe it’s going to make a lot of the challenges we’re facing here worse,” Anderson said in the Daily News. “And it’s going to change the character of the community a lot in terms of its accessibility for workaday folks who I always have thought have been such a great part of the backbone of this community.”

Statewide, housing is a foremost concern, stated Colorado Gov. Jared Polis during a regional “State of the State” address he delivered at Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs on Jan. 29. Polis’ visit was foreshadowed by a news release stating that “housing topped the list of Colorado’s ‘great challenges.’”

“The good news is that people want to live in Colorado,” said Polis in an Aspen Daily News report, “but the bad news is the word has gotten out. And that’s driven up home prices.” Polis’ mundane observation was followed by a pledge to explore “innovative housing opportunities,” which Polis did with a brief visit to the Valley Alliance to End Homelessness’s third regional quarterly meeting, a tour of a pilot modular housing initiative in Eagle and a look at an accessory dwelling unit in Glenwood Springs owned by Glenwood Springs City Council member Jonathan Godes.

During his speech, Polis said that “artificial constraints” on housing supply are preventing Colorado from meeting its housing demand and that “workers are being forced to move farther from where they work in order to find affordable housing, meaning that in a single year, the average Coloradan now spends $1,800 per year in gas for their commutes. The answer to affordability,” Polis said in the Daily News report, “is not to make people live further and further away.”

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Jess and Kim Lawson (left) and their children stand before their new housing unit at Wapiti Commons, an affordable housing development built by Habitat for Humanity, where they moved in April. 

A pressing issue mentioned to Polis during his visit with Valley Alliance to End Homelessness is securing housing for the 70 Venezuelan refugees who found shelter under the Highway 133 bridge outside Carbondale in January. It was reported that Venezuelan immigrants have arrived in other cities across Colorado, including more than 26,000 in Denver.

The Daily News reported that “VAEH has hired two new ‘housing navigators’ whose job will be to communicate with local landlords about making their properties part of the VAEH system. 

Jose Saez, one of the new housing navigators, said he will look high and low to find viable options. ‘I’ll knock on the door and I’ll ask your friends, I’ll ask your friends’ friends, and I’ll ask your friend’s dog, just to try to help somebody get housing.’”

“Without supply, we are losing our workforce, and this was just validated by the state of Colorado demographer,” said Kathleen Wanatowicz, a consultant who has worked on numerous housing and infrastructure projects, referencing March data from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. That data reveals that the regional labor force will be tighter and that it will be harder to compete for the best and the brightest, that people 65 and older represent the fastest-growing demographic in Garfield County, which strains goods and services, and that people are aging in place in Colorado, limiting housing turnover needed for working-class residents.

Where affordable housing collides with growth 

Building new affordable housing is no mean feat, especially in a region where real estate is sky high, construction costs are through the roof and housing developments have become spurs for community pushback.

Real estate and construction costs can be subsidized, but political will is a cultural hurdle that thwarts the best of intentions. Glenwood Springs’ Ballot Question A puts up a wall to new development, and yet local control of community culture is a democratic mainstay.

Schwartz has had to answer to complaints about growth, which she said are based on a misunderstanding. “People say, ‘Oh, they’re just growing the community.’ No, no, no!,” Schwartz said. “We’re just taking those people that are already part of the community and stabilizing them.”

The goal of a project such as Habitat for Humanity’s The Confluence isn’t to bring new people into Glenwood Springs, Schwartz said, but to provide homes for those who are already living and working in the city limits.

“Our goal is to create secure homes for people to live and work in Glenwood,” Schwartz said. “Is that going to be a firefighter or a teacher or a RFTA employee? We’re taking people from a rental unit into a permanent home so they can continue to participate in the community and give back to the community, shop in the community, etc. When people receive these homes, they stay and continue working in the community. There is a continual drumbeat by business owners, the institutions, the hospitals and RFTA, saying, ‘We need housing.’ That is one voice. The [Glenwood Springs] government, in their openness and willingness to support affordable housing, is another voice.” 

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Karla Quintana with her son and daughter celebrated moving into their Wapiti Commons affordable housing townhome in February. Wapiti is a 20-unit Habitat for Humanity neighborhood project in Rifle with 10 townhomes and 10 condominiums. 


As Habitat for Humanity is mandated to serve existing residents at The Confluence, the 3-Mile Mobile Home Park is enacting an ownership conversion that is making owners out of renters with no new growth. Meanwhile, West Mountain Regional Housing Coalition is providing creative options through conversions of existing housing stock where new growth is defrayed by deed restricting existing units.

“We are not building housing,” Long said at an Aspen Journalism-hosted housing forum in Carbondale in December, “but are looking to buy down existing housing and resell with price caps and deed restrictions. We also offer rental assistance — first and last — to get people in homes.”

Pitkin County commissioners on May 28 agreed to $1 million in support of the West Mountain buy-down program. This was reduced from an initial signal of support for up to $2 million made during a preliminary meeting in February, due in part to commissioners’ wavering about spending Pitkin County funds on housing beyond county boundaries. With these funds, the coalition’s buy-down program will be offered to buyers who find free-market homes for their full-time, primary residence with purchase-price caps of $1.5 million in Pitkin County and Basalt; $1.2 million in the Roaring Fork portion of Garfield County, including Glenwood Springs; and $800,000 in western Garfield County. The Roaring Fork portion of Eagle County would fall under a similar buy-down program offered by Eagle County government.

“West Mountain would provide up to 30% of the contracted purchase price in exchange for the buyer placing a deed-restriction on the property,” reported the Daily News, after which Long remarked: “This brings down the total amount required from the buyer and bridges the gap between what is available on the market and what is affordable.” Further, the deed restriction would limit appreciation of a subsidized residence to 3% annually. There would be no income cap on buyers, but they couldn’t own other residential property in the region or anywhere else.

“I think we need to be a leader in the valley,” said Commissioner Steve Child in support for the donation in February, “and this is our opportunity to step up.”

An appropriate housing mix and well-being

Former Pitkin County Commissioner Michael Kinsley served on the board from 1975 to 1985 and was instrumental in initiating a countywide affordable housing strategy that later grew into the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA).

Admitting to a “heretical” view — given that he was a commissioner when the board radically downzoned much of the county in the 1970s and given that he currently serves on the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board — Kinsley suggested a radical new look at key open space parcels that could rank highest for workforce housing such as half the Aspen municipal golf course and a portion of the Marolt Open Space.

Suggesting a nuanced approach to building new affordable housing based on a mix of pragmatics and ideology, Kinsley said, “Adding housing supply will not reduce prices in a highly inflated economy. Second-home owners and retirees will always be able to outbid local working people. Economists call it an inelastic demand, which changes the balance of supply and demand. This implies that there is a significant role for nonprofits, development corporations and local government to solve the problem.”

The first order of business, if significant progress is to be made, said Kinsley, “is to ignore governmental, jurisdictional boundaries, which just get in the way of solving these regional problems. I say this having been a county commissioner.”

Kinsley recommends taking an inventory of all possible sites with evaluations for appropriateness based on aesthetics; biodiversity; proximity to employment or public transit; neighborhood impact; public cost of services and infrastructure; traffic; effects on employees; and other considerations.

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Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley President Gail Schwartz speaks during a ceremony marking the opening of the 27-unit Basalt Vista affordable housing development in 2022.

“Any new affordable development will incite NIMBY-oriented opposition, for which there are valid reasons,” he said. “However, objective criteria would overrule the NIMBY approach.”

He also sounded a pragmatic note regarding immigration. “Regardless of what you think about the immigrant issue, our economy needs them in very practicable ways,” he said. “Is the tourist economy here headed for a significant failure due to the unavailability of working people? I keep hearing about huge employee shortages in all kinds of businesses. So, this is not about cultural empathy, but hard-edged economics. There is a need for working people and for a viable way for them to come to work.”

Housing directly impacts the economic viability of the upvalley resorts, he said, as traditional cohorts are no longer available to clean rooms and tend grounds, “and that even includes lawyers and doctors. We probably don’t need more lawyers,” quipped Kinsley, “but we’ll always need more medical professionals.”

Kinsley disagrees with the “messy vitality” planning notion of integrating workers across cultural townscapes, questioning the practicality of mixing tourist/second-home densities with employee densities. “There are not the places to do this,” he said. “What is pejoratively referred to as a ghetto is by definition a cohesive neighborhood or community. That’s the most comforting setting for the working population to live in — more like a real place.”

Kinsley said Aspen is no longer suitable, despite its past intent, for integrating its diverse social strata. “There is now a group of people in Aspen who see community differently, not as a scrappy, funky place where working people and weird characters live,” he said. “They see it as something more like a country club. Rather than assign a value judgment to that, it’s important to recognize that a country club needs maids and groundskeepers. The local economy requires that we have those workers to operate the economy.”

The housing challenge is interwoven throughout our diverse regional fabric, from Aspen to Parachute. It touches all walks of life and all manners of lifestyle. Housing is fundamental to American psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, where belonging to a community through family and friends is crucially important. “Housing is one of the most important social determinants of health,” Time magazine quoted “Legacy” author and Advancing Health Equity founder and CEO Uche Blackstock in its May 13 issue on health.

Although self-actualization stands at the peak of Maslow’s pyramid, housing provides the necessary foundation for overall community health. Without firm foundations, both local and regional communities become unstable and unsustainable. Housing security is essential to who and what we are as a community.

This concludes the 10-part “In search of community” series from Aspen Journalism, the final two installments of which delved into housing. Read all the articles and more at This story is provided by Aspen Journalism, a nonprofit, investigative news organization founded in 2011.

Paul Andersen has been living in the Roaring Fork Valley for 40 years and was a reporter, editor and regular contributor to The Aspen Times. He has authored 15 books about the region. This is the seventh installment of his “in search of community” series for Aspen Journalism, which began in December.