Allison Alexander
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Discussions of the housing crisis in our area have been in the headlines, letters to the editor, and conversations across the city for years. Although the pandemic has accelerated the problems facing our region, they are not new.

The mere mention of housing tends to escalate tensions and the solutions offered are never universally accepted. Solutions that might work incredibly well in other places may fall flat here simply because we are blessed with such a unique place to call home.

While solutions must be explored and creativity must be harnessed, the great housing debate has real-time impacts on the lives of children and families that are important to examine and understand as a community. in the meantime.

Last week, Bloomberg published an article highlighting the increase in the number of executive-level remote workers moving to Aspen. This influx of residents has led to an increase in demand for services while simultaneously reducing the amount of available housing needed for the workers needed to serve a growing community year-round.

The article incorrectly stated that workers and residents were being “pushed down the valley to more affordable towns” and stated that those towns were an hour away.

In reality, many employees who work to keep Aspen services running commute over an hour and a half each way from places like Parachute and Silt, not all of which are connected by the bus line. . It is not uncommon for workers in Aspen to spend more than 15 hours a week commuting to work as rents have continued to rise.

You have to travel more than 60 miles outside of Aspen to find two-bedroom family accommodation under $2,500 a month. This cost is often higher than the amount a worker could earn in these cities, making trips to Aspen necessary for housing.

The combination of financial constraints and arduous commutes creates stress and instability for families, especially those with children. More and more children in our region are faced with precarious housing and parents struggle to continue to make life in the valley possible for their families.

Amanda Vaughn, coordinator of the Garfield School District RE-2 Family Resource Center, said the rising cost of living and unstable housing are creating tremendous stress for students in her district. Garfield County’s RE-2 district, which operates public schools in New Castle, Silt and Rifle (all well over an hour’s drive to and from Aspen), has seen an increase in homelessness among its student population.

The Family Resource Center acts as a resource to help support struggling families in times of crisis and need.

“Our goal is to serve as a gateway for families. A door to walk through to meet needs and connect with resources, as these families have little time to get what they need due to where they live and work,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn noted that the district is seeing an increase in the number of students losing stable housing, which is impacting their ability to learn due to anxiety. Recently, a first grade student who was referred to the resource center told her that she was worried about where she would sleep each night and how her family would be able to afford school supplies. The needs of these students and their families overlap and compromise students’ ability to thrive.

While many of those struggling to find housing are in the service industry upriver in the valley, the struggles go beyond that and into local working families as well.

Vaughn herself was left without a home for her family, including her three children and one child in her care, when her longtime landlord announced he had sold his rental home, leaving her with less a month to find new accommodation. She was without stable housing for six weeks until her network offered an option.

His story is not uncommon. she says, as many landlords are selling or raising rents in response to the changing regional market.

As she has been on both sides of the struggle, helping to navigate systems and needing to navigate them on her own, she understands the difficulties families face. This drives her passion for real-time work with families as broader solutions to the housing crisis are explored and crafted, saving them time and honoring their place in our community.

As Bloomberg accurately captured, the influx of new community members is exciting in many ways. As we welcome our new neighbors, may we also consider the lived realities of those who make life here as we know it possible.

Let’s all recognize the importance of supporting our wider community, as we are an interconnected region.

Allison Alexander is the Director of Development for the Aspen Community Foundation, which, with the support of its donors, works with nonprofit organizations in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys.