The Aspen School District is working with a prominent developer for affordable housing

The Aspen Edge building may become the newest place for Aspen School District employees to live.
Caroline Sakaryason/The Aspen Times

As the 2022-23 school year approaches at Aspen School District, the organization is moving quickly to house more teachers before classes begin.

A new proposal comes from developer Mark Hunt, who owns a duty free building called Aspen Edge Condos at 1235 E. Cooper Ave.

He wants to sell or lease eight units in the building to the area and make it restricted, which is essentially under rent control or a sales cap.

District and Hunt have contacted city officials about the idea, according to Director of Community Development Philip Subino in a memo Aspen City Council.

The council will consider the proposal on Tuesday and, if approved, would make it easier to place school district employees into units on Cooper Street before the school year begins.

The official app is for a change of use in another building owned by Hunt at 516 E. Hyman Ave. , where he wants to move the existing in-progress from a 400-square-foot studio to a two-bedroom unit in the Aspen Edge building.

It would create additional units for a working-class community and generate affordable housing credits for Hunt, as well as convert 400 square feet of contract-restricted residential to commercial in his Hyman Avenue building.

The Affordable Housing Credit Program certification allows a developer to build affordable housing and receive credit for every unit that comes online. This credit can then be sold to another developer who will use it to meet the mitigation requirements of employees on a separate project.

City employees support the proposal because it creates seven new bond-restricted, 14-bedroom units, in exchange for the transfer and expansion of an existing contract-restricted unit, according to a memo from Subino.

The school district acquired eight units on Waters Street at the beginning of the year and toured the new apartments earlier this week. Three people have already moved into housing.

The district issued a press release Friday touting its efforts to date and explaining the unusual employment challenges due to teacher shortages and a lack of affordable housing.

As part of the region’s hiring and retention strategy, affordable employee housing opportunities expanded, representing a 42% increase in supply over last year, according to the statement.

Earlier this year, the school district and the Aspen Education Association agreed on a new salary scale with significant salary increases, given that the median teacher starting wage is $50,000.

A new compensation structure combined with a recently acquired housing stock has allowed the district to nearly complete employment targets for the upcoming school year, according to the statement.

The district has hired 35 new employees, including 26 certified teachers and private providers who arrive from within the state, across the country, the Philippines, and Japan.

Nine new employees have also been hired to fill educational support staff positions, such as specialist assistants, food service, and transportation.

These are mostly local staff with two new members from Australia and Scotland. In addition to 35 new employees, seven approved positions have been filled internally through existing employee transfers, according to district officials.

Recruitment is ongoing for some additional support staff positions and progress is being made each week to fill the remaining vacancies.

“It is an understatement to say that these are unprecedented times in the world of education,” Dr. David Poe, Principal of the Schools, said in the press release. “We knew we had to think and work outside the box to identify and hire high caliber teachers and staff to join our existing valuable team.

He continued, “A lot of credit goes to our community partners who recognized our urgent needs and made it possible for us to offer new and attractive housing options.” “We are very grateful that they have come forward to provide us with affordable properties, some of which are ready for delivery, in prime locations.”

The addition of 14 bedrooms in the Aspen Edge building will secure the last housing needed to open schools for this year, according to district officials.

Another key priority in preparation for the new academic year is the modernization of campus buildings, pathways, and systems, including enhanced safety and security protocols and features.

According to the press release, internal and external construction is underway throughout the summer, and while most of the work is nearing completion, there will be projects in progress due to extended delivery dates and staffing challenges. Funding improvements, including energy upgrades and sustainability initiatives, have already been implemented thanks to a voter-approved bond measure passed in 2020.

“The Board of Directors has tasked Dave Bowe and the management team with recruiting and hiring the best talent for our schools,” Katie Frisch, chair of the District Education Board, said in a statement. “There has never been a more difficult time to hire teachers and staff. Our commitment to raising salaries and offering new, affordable housing options has enabled us to achieve our goals to better serve our children and the community.”

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