ASPEN, COLORADO (Post Time News)—Some might consider it stranger than fiction, but a new idea has actually emerged in the campaign for Mayor of Aspen.
Tim Semrau—the former City Councilor, entrepreneur, and local store owner—is proposing to take a chunk of the city’s Affordable Housing fund and use it to increase the appreciation of the 755 units in the program to 5 percent from the more typical 3 percent. The candidate would also double the amount of money people could put into improving their deed-restricted units with the possibility of getting it back when the unit sells.
“The paradise we call Aspen has been created by all the people living here,” Semrau said, “and those living in deed-restricted housing should be able to share in the benefits of the American home ownership dream.”
The key to the plan is the money that the Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) that Semrau says will have a surplus of $35 million in 2008, rising to $100 million in 2014. He estimates the average appreciation of units under his proposal would be $3,640 per year—appreciation that owners could presumably recoup when they sell the unit. The City, in turn, would use the fund to “buy down” the unit and put it back into the affordable housing mix at a lower rate. Owners could also put 20 percent of the value of the unit into upgrades, a jump from the current 10 percent.
“The problem is that we have a program that needs additional units,” Mick Ireland, one of Semrau’s opponents in the race, told a local paper. “If we tap that fund to buy down units, we could wind up not having money to build additional units that are badly needed.”
Semrau’s chess move could put Ireland, who lives in Affordable Housing, in the difficult position of explaining to voters why he doesn’t want owners of affordable housing—himself included—to benefit from the RETT dollars swelling city coffers, at a time when the city has no major building plans beyond the Burlingame development.
“I didn’t buy a house to get a windfall from tax dollars,” Ireland, a former Pitkin County Commissioner, told the paper. “I’m not looking for a greater appreciation than I bargained for.”
Ireland’s aversion to additional dollars in his own pocket might not be shared by other owners of Affordable Housing. Another candidate in the race, City Councilor Torre, immediately grasped the implications of Semrau’s plan.
“It sounds like a politician pandering to the affordable housing vote,” Torre told another local paper.
Pandering or not, Semrau’s proposal to use the Affordable Housing fund to make a better deal for owners of the units is not an idea that is about to go away in before the May 2007 election.