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Report finds low-paying jobs, high priced housing in Basalt

Mar 12, 2015

Basalt Town Council heard a presentation Tuesday about the state of the economy in Basalt and the current need for affordable housing.
Credit Flickr/hmclaird

Elected officials in Basalt heard results Tuesday from a study done on affordable housing. A Denver-based research group looked over wages, housing costs and job growth and delivered mostly negative findings. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports.

Suzanne Wheeler-DelPiccolo is principal of Basalt Elementary School. She says finding affordable housing is a constant challenge for her staff of teachers.

"When you hire new people, as a principal, I’ve helped people look for apartments and find places to live because it’s that challenging," she says.

She sees the gap widening between what people can afford and what they earn.

"We’ve seen teachers having to move out of the area to find permanent housing. It’s housing where they can raise their families."

Wheeler-DelPiccolo joined the Basalt Affordable Community Housing committee that advises Town Council. The group initiated a study on affordable housing.

David Schwartz of Denver-based Economic and Planning Systems Incorporated studied a three mile area around downtown. He found most Basalt workers don’t live in town, but would like to. The average sales price for a single family home is about $850,000, which is out of reach for most residents.

Perhaps the most surprising finding is the loss of higher paying jobs. Since the recession, Basalt has gained back jobs in industries like retail, agriculture and accommodations. These low wage positions account for 43 percent of the workforce. Conversely, just 125 salary and higher paying jobs were created between 2001 and 2013. Dan Guimond also worked on the study.

"We know that Whole Foods is here and there are a bunch of retail workers and there’s been a bump there. But, overall we’ve seen a loss in jobs in all of the Valley’s economies, but maybe the loss in higher paying jobs was a little more disproportional than I thought it would be (in Basalt)," he says.

The analysis recommends adding 200 affordable units over the next five years. Family-oriented and entry level housing is most needed. In its community housing pool, Basalt has 55 units. Most are deed restricted, meaning there’s caps on rent and sales prices. Six are Town-owned.

The report also suggests reworking a requirement for developers. 35 percent of residential square footage in development projects must be set aside for affordable housing. The Basalt Affordable Community Housing committee is looking into possible changes.