More than 3,200 people live in the 1,652 deed-restricted ownership units managed under the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, according to ownership affidavits collected in 2021, representing nearly one-fifth of the population of Pitkin County. 

For many, ownership in these homes forms the basis of a life here, providing stability that would not otherwise be possible, especially as affordable housing becomes more scarce valleywide.

This stock of APCHA ownership units runs the gamut, from affordably priced apartments, condos and townhomes, to mobile homes and manufactured homes that span the spectrum of value, to an increasing number of multimillion-dollar residences restricted to those who live and work in Pitkin County. 

Indeed, that inventory can be viewed in two market segments. One, with fewer restrictions on owner qualifications and valuations, is managed under the “resident occupied” (RO) category. It sees greater variability in pricing and increasingly is serving the higher end of the deed-restricted market. The second, larger segment, with price caps determined via a set of categories based on buyers’ income and assets, saw median pricing in 2021 that was less than half of the median RO sale price. APCHA housing classified under the categories system typically remains more steady in its appreciation, providing housing across a wide range of incomes. 

Further analysis shows that a majority of ownership affordable-housing units are sold under income categories that do not line up with the pay rates of most new jobs in the county. 

Aspen Journalism is publishing a searchable, sortable database listing information on each APCHA ownership unit. This inventory was created using information provided to Aspen Journalism by APCHA and the Pitkin County Assessor’s Office, and is current as of March 24, 2022. It shows the listed owner(s) of each unit, the unit’s address, its subdivision, category, most recent purchase price or revaluation and date, and its market value as of March 24.

The listed market values, for units in categories 1 through 5 and about one-third of the RO inventory, correspond to the maximum sale price for which a unit can be sold based on the deed restriction, which typically caps resale value based on an annual appreciation rate of 3%, or the consumer price index, whichever is less, plus allowed capital improvements. For most units, the value of capital improvements that can be added to the maximum sale price is capped at 10% of the home’s most recent sale price.

The RO category has varying criteria governing qualifications and sales among RO neighborhoods. Some RO units have an appreciation cap, while others don’t and can sell for whatever the market among qualified buyers will bear. RO owners are not subject to income limits, and asset limits vary based on the neighborhood and whether or not a deed restriction has been updated. For many of the RO properties there are no asset caps. There are also differences in work history and residency requirements depending on the neighborhood. 

For RO homes without an appreciation cap, APCHA does not maintain a listing of current market value. However, the Pitkin County Assessor’s Office assigns a valuation to those units, and in the case of subdivisions for which APCHA does not provide a value — including Aspen Village, Lazy Glen, Smuggler and a few others containing 333 units or 65% of the RO inventory — we have included the assessor’s value in the published table. These valuations sourced from the assessor’s office reflect the most recent assessment, based on sales between 2018 and 2020. They are marked with an asterisk in the table. It is anticipated that those values will rise when new valuations based on the past two years’ market conditions are released by the assessor’s office in May.

Additionally, several units sold through the city of Aspen for use by city employees have a different appreciation rate that APCHA doesn’t track. Those units are also marked with an asterisk in the table.

All other market-value numbers in the table — for homes with an appreciation cap not controlled by the city— were provided by APCHA.

The last purchase price or revaluation column, as well as the associated date column, reflect the most recent sale of the unit, or when factors including a capital improvement, addition or completion of a home triggered a new valuation of the property. 

Thirty APCHA units sold or were listed from March 24 through Sept. 9. Those units’ owners have been marked by a double asterisk in the table. More information about these recent sales can be found on APCHA’s most recent sales report.

In 2014, Aspen Journalism published a similar database containing data on each APCHA ownership unit, including the current owner, the most recent sale price and market value. That information was often used as a basis for comparison in our analysis. However, the 2014 version of the database did not include the assessor’s market value data for properties not tracked by APCHA, meaning that information is not shown for significant parts of the inventory at Lazy Glen, Aspen Village, Smuggler and other neighborhoods. 

What’s in the APCHA inventory?

The total of the current market value for all 1,650 APCHA ownership units included in Aspen Journalism’s 2022 table is $634 million. 

This housing stock, along with 1,430 rental units overseen by APCHA, is divided into five categories based on each household’s income and assets, plus the RO units. A one-person household can make up to $38,700 to be eligible for Category 1 units, the lowest category, and up to $185,650 for Category 5 units, the highest category. 

RO doesn’t have any income limit for buyers — but APCHA’s 2022 guidelines place a $2.4 million cap on a buyer’s assets.

In addition to meeting the income and asset caps that pertain to the unit for which they are applying, most deed restrictions require that an individual seeking to purchase or rent an APCHA unit work at least 1,500 hours a year (about 30 hours a week) in Pitkin County, live at least nine months a year in their APCHA unit and not own any other developed residential property in the Roaring Fork River watershed and between Rifle and No Name in the Colorado River Valley. 

Most ownership units are either Category 4 or ROs

The two largest categories in the ownership inventory are Category 4 and RO. Combined, the 535 Category 4 units and 510 ROs make up 62% of the APCHA ownership units. In 2022, individuals making between $100,601 and $158,600 are eligible to purchase a Category 4 unit; income limits for this category reach up to $262,800 for a family of six. RO serves people who aren’t subject to any income limits. 

Units in categories 1 to 3 make up less than 30% of the APCHA ownership inventory as of March 24. Both Category 4 and RO contain more units than categories 1 to 3 combined — although lower categories are more heavily represented in APCHA rental units.

In 2014, 26 units in the APCHA inventory had a most recent sales price of at least $1 million; by March, this number jumped to 50. The highest APCHA sale price to date is $1.9 million for a North 40 home purchased in December 2021. It’s worth noting that some prices have been updated in the APCHA inventory due to an addition, some major construction on the lot or a home completion. 

Although sales of $1 million homes have increased, the number of units with a last purchase price of $100,000 or less declined from more than 300 units in 2014 to about 200 in 2022.

The two lowest sales of 2021 were around $68,000 for a city of Aspen-managed unit at Water Place and about $96,000 for a Category 2 unit at Benedict Commons. 

A child enjoys a sled ride near the Smuggler Park neighborhood in Aspen. The APCHA ownership inventory can be viewed in two market segments. One, with fewer restrictions on owner qualifications and valuations, is managed under the “resident occupied” (RO) category. The second, larger segment, with price caps determined via a set of categories based on buyers’ income and assets, saw median pricing in 2021 that was less than half of the median RO sale price. Credit: Daniel Bayer/Aspen Journalism

Although units in categories 1 to 5 have price caps determined by a fixed appreciation rate that prevents dramatic price increases, many RO units are not subject to this requirement. This led to a 18.7% increase in the median sale price for RO units between 2014 and 2021 adjusted for inflation, from $434,400 in 2014 to $515,500 in 2021 (the median price peaked at over $717,000 in 2020). In comparison, the median price for categories 1 to 5 went up by 14.8% in that timeframe from roughly $204,000 in 2014 to $234,500 in 2021.

APCHA board member and Pitkin County Commissioner Kelly McNicholas-Kury moved to Burlingame Ranch in 2015 as soon as the 82 units of the second phase of the housing complex near Buttermilk were completed. She then bought and moved to a Category 3 unit in the same building in 2021 through the in-complex bid lottery. She said she is satisfied with the process and her unit. 

“It’s dense living, so you have to sort of manage your expectations with noise and animals and space, shared space and parking,” she said. “I don’t have the expectation of being able to have a single-family home at the price that we paid for our three-bedroom condo.”

Most ownership units in Burlingame II are categories 2 and 3. The median last purchase price in Burlingame II reached $235,200 in 2021, and about half the units are worth about $223,900 or less. 

“I do not see this as a wealth generator,” McNicholas-Kury said. “Because we’re just getting that 3% or that CPI cap. In many ways, though, it’s for us. It’s generating equity rather than just spending money on the rent.”

Even with a growing number of $1 million-plus sales of RO properties, the APCHA market and the free market are still very far apart — and the gap is widening. The median sales price of a single-family home in Pitkin County was more than $5 million in 2020 and 2021, up from 2019’s median price of $3.3 million and $2.8 million in 2018, according to a recent study conducted for the city of Aspen’s Lumberyard housing project, which plans to bring 277 new units to city-owned land near the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport.

An Aspen Journalism analysis of all free market residential sales in Pitkin County, including single-family homes, condo and duplexes, shows a similar pricing trend, from a median price $1.5 million in 2019 to $2.5 million in 2020. In 2021, the median price declined to $2.08 million.

The median sales price for all APCHA units was about $252,000 in 2021, according to APCHA sales reports. That same year, the median sales price reached approximately $515,000 for ROs and $243,500 for Category 4 units, compared with $221,000 for all the other categories.

Housing ownership options don’t line up with job growth

The Lumberyard housing project study showed that most job growth between 2010 and 2019 in Pitkin County occurred in incomes correlating with Category 3, meaning wages ranging from $65,750 to $100,600. Category 2 income came in second. 

Yet, Category 3 makes up just 16% of APCHA ownership units and Category 2 represents 12%. According to the Lumberyard study, the Roaring Fork Valley — from Aspen to Glenwood — gained the most ownership units in price ranges corresponding with categories 4 and 2 between 2010 and 2019, but very few were aimed at Category 3 households. 

Although most ownership units appear to serve those at the higher end of the income bracket, Chris Everson, Aspen’s affordable-housing project manager, said the city’s focus on developing new housing is on lower categories. For example, the City Council has recommended more Category 2 units in the third phase of Burlingame and fewer units for upper categories. 

Rentals historically have been used to house lower-income residents, and often as a stepping stone to APCHA ownership. Units in categories 2 and 3 together represent about 40% of the APCHA rentals. About one-third of the rentals are Category 3, while Category 2 makes up about one-fourth. The Lumberyard project, for example, is planned for around 70% rentals. 

This story is the first part of a series examining the ownership affordable-housing inventory maintained by APCHA. In the next story, we will dive into the RO market. 

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Laurine Lassalle

Laurine Lassalle is Aspen Journalism’s data desk editor, where she works to catalogue and analyze local public data. She also heads our our “Tracking the Curve” project, documenting COVID-19 in Pitkin,...

Catherine Lutz

Catherine Lutz

Catherine Lutz is an Aspen-based freelance writer, reporter and editor. She contributes to a wide range of publications, including Aspen Sojourner and Aspen Magazine, and works for a number of clients,...