Longtime locals Andy and Bethany Spitz are the perfect example of what proponents of affordable housing are talking about when they refer to “the missing middle,” hard-working professionals who, despite earning what would be considered a substantial middle-class income in other parts of the country, are unceremoniously priced out of the Aspen/Snowmass home market.
“We wanted to live in the community where we work, and we certainly couldn’t afford to buy anything in the Aspen/Snowmass free market,” says Bethany, an attorney who works as the compliance, policy, and systems manager for the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority. (Her husband, a full-time employee of Aspen Skiing Company, works as a ski, snowboarding, and mountain bike instructor in Snowmass.)
While mountain towns like Aspen have wrestled with a dearth of employee housing for decades, more recently the issue has become a nationwide crisis as pandemic work-from-home trends have caused a run on real estate in just about every market, resulting in a record-breaking surge in prices. In Aspen and Snowmass, the statistics are breathtaking. According to the Aspen Board of Realtors, in the past year the average sale price for a single-family home in the Town of Snowmass Village increased by 43.9 percent to $5.2 million. Prices are exponentially higher in Aspen, where the average sale price for a single-family home is now a whopping $11 million, and a 19-bedroom, 13-bathroom estate on Red Mountain sold in June (to Canadian billionaire Patrick Dovigi, a retired professional hockey player) for $72.5 million, the most expensive real estate transaction in Pitkin County history.
The Spitzes were one of the lucky few to win a three-bedroom single-family home at Coffey Place, the newest workforce community housing in Snowmass Village. The complex is named for longtime resident and former director of the Town of Snowmass Village’s Housing Department Joe Coffey, who over his 38-year career developed 423 housing units for Snowmass Village locals who live and work here full time. “He built this program from zero to hundreds of units,” says his successor, Betsy Crum. “That’s quite a legacy.”
It’s one that endures with the recent completion of the project Coffey had initiated shortly before his death in 2018. Located next to Rodeo Place, a workforce housing community completed in 2012, the 15-unit development has six duplexes and—what has become the biggest score for families who need affordable housing—nine single-family detached homes. The duplexes are 1,622 square feet with 2.5 bedrooms, and the single-family homes are between 1,700 and 2,500 square feet with two or three bedrooms. Prices range from $495,000 to $835,000, which might sound steep but still represents a fraction of the going market-value rate.
“We had 75 people who qualified, and all 15 units sold at once,” Crum says. The longer applicants have worked (full time, year-round) in the village, the better chance they had of winning the deed-restricted housing lottery, which was held at Town Hall in January, with names Crum and others pulled from a spinning steel drum.
“Multiple studies have demonstrated the region’s unaffordable housing prices, inventory shortages, and long commute for its workers,” Crum says. “This has an impact on both the environment and the town’s economic sustainability. More importantly, if we can’t house our workers, it’s going to erode the character of our community.”
With that in mind, Charles Cunniffe Architects deliberately offsets the outsize niche it commands in the local residential luxury market (in addition to Dovigi’s Red Mountain manse, CCA also designed Aspen Park, a 15,000-square-foot custom home that was listed last year for $51 million) by rounding out its portfolio with civic projects like APD Affordable Housing, an eight-unit complex designed for Aspen Police Department personnel in the heart of downtown Aspen, and, more recently, Coffey Place.
“We’ve worked on affordable housing projects for most of our career because we want to be an integral part of the community,” says Cunniffe, who came to Aspen in 1979 to work on the renovation of the Hotel Jerome. “It’s important to have a balance of housing stock, and this particular product fulfills the missing middle. Joe Coffey understood that years ago and should be commended for his forward thinking. This is an attempt to fill that void.”
Affordable does not mean having to compromise in terms of design, says CCA senior project architect Chad Molliconi. “Of course, there’s more freedom with high-end residential work in terms of material choice and finishes, but the end goal is the same,” he says. “A home should provide a retreat, whether it’s an affordable housing unit or a mansion.”
Like Cunniffe, RA Nelson, a general contractor known for building high-end custom homes in the resort mountain market (and also tackling workforce housing projects, including Aspen’s 34-unit Burlingame Ranch and Eagle County’s 282-unit Miller Ranch in Edwards), jumped at the chance to work on the Coffey Place project. “We are longtime locals, and we are dealing with the labor shortage even within our own company, so we have a particular passion and understanding for the need for affordable housing,” says RA Nelson regional manager and senior project manager Matt Gwost. “We live here and work here, and have for 40 years, so it hits home for us.”
While the 15-unit development may seem to factor little in the region’s large-scale affordable housing crisis, for the Town of Snowmass Village, which recently approved a master plan to provide 185 additional units across 21 town-owned parcels, it represents real progress. And for 15 local families like the Spitzes, who over the summer received the keys to their brand-new homes in Coffey Place, winning the Snowmass Village housing lottery felt every bit as life-changing as winning the Colorado Lottery’s Lucky for Life sweepstakes.