In September 2000, I landed in Aspen as the first snow of the year dusted the Rockies and the Cape Cod Times was finishing a series on the Cape’s affordable housing crisis.
Back then, the Cape’s median home price was $182,000, and the Times was reporting on a loss of Cape Cod’s character, a labor shortage, skyrocketing rental prices, the loss of rental housing stock, and a vanishing middle class.
What has changed? The median home price is now $600,000.
I was in Aspen to cover a real estate transfer tax heralded as a national model to create affordable housing. Aspen is a compact valley where the median house price was $2.7 million in 2000. “That’s the free market, which is fair,” said Larry Winnerman, a real estate developer and transfer tax opponent.
The hospital CEO and school administrators had to commute or rent. “But, hey, they get to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world,” said Winnerman.
Since 1974, the 1-percent transfer tax has funded 3,000 deed-restricted units in Aspen, enough to house about half the town’s year-round population, according to Colorado Biz Magazine.
Mike Ireland, a housing rights activist, told me his philosophy of affordable housing: “Tax, build, or say goodbye.” I haven’t been back to Aspen, but it sounds like some regular folks still live there.
In Nantucket, where the median sale price is now $2.3 million, voters are moving beyond the concept that the only people who should live somewhere beautiful are those who can pay top dollar.
Tucker Holland, the island’s housing specialist, told me that, in 2019, Nantucket voters approved over $25 million for year-round housing, including a $20 million to buy land to build over 80 rental units, in clusters. The town administration is supporting another $16 million for housing at the June 5 town meeting, Holland said.
The island still has only 240 subsidized housing units, or 5 percent of its housing stock. But something has changed. There is a dawning realization that subsidized housing in isolated, desirable resort towns is about community survival.
Holland said he has spent much of his five years as Nantucket’s housing specialist “building political and community will.”
That includes recruiting pro-housing candidates for the select board, he said.
As I watch the select boards on the Outer Cape discuss what small part of our short-term rental tax windfall should go for housing, I cannot help but notice that not much has changed here. Except, of course, the median home price.