Worker housing goes from glut to crunch | AspenTimes.com

Worker housing goes from glut to crunch

Janet Urquhart

The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority's bulletin board is a first stop for many seeking ski-season housing. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

They’ve lined up a job, a work visa and their travel arrangements. But ski-season workers who didn’t line up an apartment early are finding themselves out of luck this winter.

Short-term rental housing is in very short supply for the influx of mostly young, often foreign, workers who’ve lined up a job in Aspen/Snowmass. Those who figured they’d find a place to stay when they got here are out of luck.

“There’s a pretty good scramble going on right now for housing,” said Tom McCabe, director of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority. “If you have a room to rent, you can make a buck. You could ask a high price right now and you could rent it out in a day.”

After a couple of slow seasons for the housing authority, both Marolt Ranch and the Burlingame/MAA complex filled up quickly this fall.

The 92 two-bedroom units at Burlingame/MAA, a seasonal project across from Buttermilk, were rented by Nov. 7. The 100 dorm-style units at Marolt Ranch are also taken.

Two years ago, the Burlingame complex still had 25 vacant apartments as the ski season commenced, and Marolt had filled about half of its units.

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But this year smacks of the old days ” a ski-season housing crunch rather than a glut.

“The seasonal stuff got snapped up quick,” confirmed John Mickles, property manager at Marolt Ranch. “Four years ago, we were full at Marolt on Sept. 4. The fact that the market is moving back in that direction shows a rebounding economy,” he reasoned.

“It’s back to its old busy self,” agreed Kim Keilin, manager at Centennial. “I don’t know why this year is so crazy. I hope the ski season matches up to it.”

Several property managers noted the Latin Americans were on the ball early this season, snapping up much of what was available.

“One day I had like a hundred phone calls from Brazil,” Keilin said.

Construction workers, brought by the ongoing building boom, are apparently contributing to the housing woes for late arrivals. Plenty of rentals were already taken when the ski-season workers arrived.

New Zealander Rebecca McCoy recently wrote to The Aspen Times to express her dismay over the lack of available housing. McCoy and two friends will arrive to work this season without a clue as to where they’re going to live.

“Surely, it’s time that the Aspen/Snowmass area addressed the lack of employee housing so that the ‘Average Joe’ who doesn’t work for the Skico can have a fighting chance of actually finding some form of cheap accommodation,” she wrote.

Actually, some Skico employees are apparently having a tough go of it, as well. The company’s own worker housing filled up quickly, too.

“We had to finally close our wait list and we had 55 people on it,” said a Skico housing office staffer. “It’s insane this year.”

Constantine Krylob and Natalia Kryazheave, both from Russia, could have had a jump on ski season housing but blame misleading information on the housing authority’s website for preventing them from securing early dibs on a Marolt unit.

They spent the summer in Skico housing, but since they’re working at a Snowmass restaurant this winter, they had to vacate those digs in the fall. Now, they’re bunking with a friend at Burlingame, unable to find anyplace else to go.

“We tried everything. We tried Glenwood Springs and Basalt,” Krylob said.

He blames the housing office website for failing to make the rules at Marolt clear. The units were rented by workers long before they arrived on the scene.

The website reads: “Management begins taking rental applications on the last week of August for Sept. 1 move-ins. Units are available on a first-come, first-served basis.”

McCabe concedes the wording isn’t terribly clear, especially since English is a second language for many of the workers grappling with the ins and outs of Aspen’s housing game.

Meanwhile, he said he planned to advise the Aspen Chamber Resort Association that housing is in short supply, so the organization can pass the word along to businesses that are still anticipating the arrival of seasonal workers. Employers may find their staffing plans falling through when arriving workers discover they can’t find a place to live, he said.

“It’s getting tight enough now that we might have a pretty big disservice to all parties concerned,” he said. “It’s going to be a miracle that those folks are going to find housing.”

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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