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Aspen School District purchases 18 employee housing units in Snowmass Village, some could house non-district employees

 The Aspen School District purchased two apartment buildings at 11 and 21 Assay Hill Court on April 19. The 8-unit building on the east side of the parcel includes a deed restriction allowing employees of the Timbers Club first right of refusal to rent the property.
Halle Zander
Aspen Public Radio
The Aspen School District purchased two apartment buildings at 11 and 21 Assay Hill Court on April 19, 2023. The 8-unit building on the east side of the parcel includes a deed restriction allowing employees of the Timbers Club first right of refusal to rent the property.

The Aspen School District acquired 18 new housing units in Snowmass Village for its employee housing program.

The $10.5 million acquisition of two apartment buildings on Assay Hill Court, across the street from the Timbers Club, is made possible by the 2020 voter-approved housing bond.

Many of the current tenants are employees already working in Pitkin County and will be displaced in December, but the district might not be able to fill all of the units with their teachers.

Caroline Llanes spoke with reporter Halle Zander to learn more about the deal.

Caroline Llanes: So first of all, tell me about the employee housing project.

Halle Zander: So there are 18 one- and two-bedroom apartments in two buildings on the front half of Assay Hill Court, which is across Faraway Road from the Timbers Club.

There’s also 16 ownership units on the back half of the street, but those aren’t a part of this deal.

The rental units were built in 2004, and were sold to the school district by Christine Quinn, via Faraway Housing LLC.

The district says they’re in pretty good condition, so they won’t have to do any renovations before teachers can move in.

Llanes: $10.5 million is a lot of money to drop on real estate, even for a place like Aspen and Snowmass Village. How can the school district afford it?

Zander: Right, well the Aspen School District voters approved a $94.3 million bond in 2020, which essentially extends the line of credit that the school district can use, and it was specifically earmarked for new staff housing and upgrades to school buildings.

Baugh says since the pandemic, staff shortages have been a big issue across the district, so this bond has been critical in bolstering its housing stock so they can attract new hires.

“The number one question out of any potential recruit is, ‘where do I live?,’” Baugh said. “‘That place is like how do I live there? Do you have housing for us?’ And unfortunately we don’t have enough housing, but we say housing may be available.”

He says the new housing is definitely helping to bridge the gap, but they’re still hiring for lots of positions across the district.

Llanes: So I understand there’s a complicated deed restriction on this employee housing project. How does that work?

Zander: Right, so this property has a little bit of history.

The two buildings were originally built in 2004 as employee housing mitigation for the Timbers Club, which is a private residence club across the street from these units, and the Timbers has some rights that were carried over through the sale.

A tenancy agreement from 2014 says the Timbers has the right of first refusal to fill two of the east building’s eight units with its own employees.

So the school district now owns those units, but they’re somewhat off limits when the Timbers Club needs them.

I spoke with some of the current residents on Thursday who said there are already some Timbers employees living there, which means the Aspen School District only has guaranteed housing for its staff long-term in the other 16 units.

So the school district could be providing housing to non-district employees using the voter-approved housing bond.

I haven’t heard back yet from the district if this is a concern for them or not.

Llanes: You mentioned the current tenants. How are they feeling about the deal?

Zander: Well, as you can imagine, not great. I spoke with one couple who feels really lucky that they were already planning on moving out.

But another tenant who has a young kid says he was one of the first people to move into these buildings and he doesn’t know where he’s going next.

Superintendent Baugh is aware that this project is displacing people and it’s more ideal for the district to build new housing, so they’re considering some construction projects alongside these kinds of acquisitions.

Llanes: How many teachers will be able to live there?

Zander: Most of the current leases expire at the end of this year, so it’ll be a few more months before the district can start moving more teachers in.

Baugh said it’s unclear yet how many people they’ll be able to house there.

Some of their staff members have families and others are single and can bunk up, so the district is going to have to look at their needs and decide on configurations as they go, but Baugh said that teachers are going to get priority over other staff members at this time.

Llanes: OK — so how many units did the school district have before they bought this 18-unit complex? Is this a big addition to their housing stock?

Zander: Yes, these 18 new apartments put the total number of housing units owned by the school district at 102.

That’s more than double what it was in 2020, and they have a pretty wide range of units including studios and one- to five- bedroom apartments and single family homes, but the district has much bigger goals set for its employee housing program.

It wants to provide housing to 100% of its staff by 2036, and last year, the school district set another goal to provide housing for 54% of its staff within just three years.

That works out to be about 144 units but Baugh says that’s a stretch goal, given the district only has about $7 to 12 million left in the bond for property acquisitions.

“I am guardedly optimistic that we'll be able to get to 110, 115 units,” Baugh said. “We have a little bit of land down valley. We're looking at building some units there and we're exploring a number of options for affordable housing.”

Actually, one of those options includes partnering with a 3D printing company.

Baugh says 3D printed housing can be more energy efficient, fire resistant and affordable compared to traditional stick-built houses.

On average right now, they’re spending about $360,000 to $400,000 per bedroom.

Llanes: Well thanks for trying to explain, Halle.

Zander: Of course, anytime.

Halle Zander is a broadcast journalist and the afternoon anchor on Aspen Public Radio during "All Things Considered." Her work has been recognized by the Public Media Journalists Association, the Colorado Broadcasters Association, and the Society of Professional Journalists.