Ruth & I have included Aspen, CO in our travel plans for many years. That’s Aspen in the photo above in the 1930s. We have enjoyed music and local chicken salad and reasonable places to stay. I was waiting to see if a year away from this town caused by a worldwide epidemic called COVID changed anything. We went there for a few days in 2021 to attend a briefer music festival. If anything, Aspen has become more expensive and less of a place we can visit.
A couple of years ago we went to a talk sponsored by the Aspen Institute. The speaker was Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, where many people live in tents and can’t afford to buy property. A woman in the audience asked Garcetti what he planned to do about this growing homelessness. He said he was preparing to build little houses for the homeless. “Wait!” I reacted. “Don’t little houses have to be maintained and taxed and moved into and out of, and don’t their dwellers have rules to obey?”
Ruth and I have lived across the Columbia River from Portland, OR since 2003. For the past several years we have stopped going into Portland because so many of its residents are living in tents that block streets and smell bad. Graffiti is everywhere, especially obscuring road signs. Many businesses that we used to like have shut down. The cost of staying in business during a time of social unrest that led to graffiti, broken windows, and general looting became too high. And Portland isn’t the only West Coast city with housing issues. I recall going to San Francisco some years ago now and being told by a hotel clerk which streets to avoid walking down to reduce confrontations and avoid those with no place to live. Has Portland become like San Francisco? Is avoidance the only solution to social problems?
While in Aspen in 2021, I was far more aware of only million dollar properties for sale and fewer places to dine and stay for those on a budget. Then I read some articles that told me why. The still free and honest Aspen TImes, a local newspaper, reported that “rents for restaurants are $50,000 and $60,000 a month.” That explained the $63 steak on one menu and the disappearance of affordable places to eat like The Red Onion, Little Annie’s Eating House and others. The changes in Aspen explained why Ruth and I found ourselves staying at the last affordable place in town. It made headlines like CITY GRAPPLES WITH LOCALS BEING PRICED OUT OF ASPEN and EAGLE COUNTY COMMITS $5.4 M TO HOUSING FUN understandable. The latter article dealt with what it called “the local housing crisis”. In other words, those who clean hotel rooms and cut lawns and have middle class incomes can’t afford to stay in the Aspen area any longer without help. In other words they need “Bold Housing Moves”, a program that is trying to find ways to help them stay. They need little houses and local places to dine and shop.
I began to pay more attention to real estate ads. Supplements that advertised property for sale usually had subheadings like “Where Life Meets Style”. Rooms in featured houses always had magnificent views and were filled with deluxe furniture. Prices usually were in excess of a million dollars, and the grinning real estate agents looked like they were consistently let go when they turned 40.
What is the answer to Aspen’s closing its doors to anyone who is not extremely well off? Maybe the answer is, “There is no answer”. What is the solution to not being able to live in a decent house in the United States? Are little houses the true answer to our future needs?