Thursday, January 11, 2024

Downzoning continues to not work

What will potentially be Aspen, CO's most expensive home

Aspen, Colorado is one of the most exclusive places to get a home in the entire United States. It has always been a beautiful place, but before tourism, there was essentially no way to make money in the Roaring Fork Valley, regularly full of snow. Aspen has a big problem, though. Aspen locals (who exist to the extent that locals exist to a place that had a population of 700 in 1930) want both to preserve the beautiful mountain views and also make sure that all the rich people go away and don't bother them. They are simultaneously pursuing both of these goals and failing. In the FT: "Super-rich shake up Aspen’s 'curated snow dome.'" Along with this, Aspen also has to figure out how to have employees be able to actually live there. Aspen, a small town in a valley full of small towns that all believe they are beautiful and perfect, is just the worst example of its neighbors (Snowmass, Rifle, Vail)

Aspen's recent genius solution has been to restrict the size of single family homes. In their eyes, this will help stop bigfooting (tearing down a smaller house and building a larger house on the same lot). Bigfooting is bad for the environment and bad for housing affordability in the opinions of many Aspen residents. Therefore, they decided to save Aspen, they will reduce the maximum house size to 9,250sf. This, in their opinion, will help alleviate the issues of Aspen's housing market. Aspen also prohibits any buildings taller than 28 feet. 

All the regulation that Aspen does does not accomplish one thing: affordable housing of any size or shape. 

Capping the size of homes may, of course, deter the odd billionaire who has set their sights on a modern Aspen mansion, which would be welcome news to some residents. Despite the town having an affordable housing programme for local employees, “there is almost no free-market housing available that someone can afford on the wages they earn from a job in town. A subsidised single-family [house] can still cost more than $1mn,” says Roger Marolt, an accountant and local newspaper columnist who fears the town is losing its soul as the super-rich move in. “Aspen is already a billionaires’ enclave,” he says.  

I think it is bad that Aspen does not have any places for regular people to live. Keeping Aspen as a cute little town of cute houses will probably not save the environment. It will turn Aspen into a privatized city. Aspen has a lesson for all other cities: when rich people decide to come to your city, you cannot stop them. When you operate under constraints, you have to adapt and make a city that accommodates everyone, including the most needy.