Aspen’s next $1M for rent relief being rolled out for residents | AspenTimes.com
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Aspen’s next $1M for rent relief being rolled out for residents

Olivia Fagre, 5, plays in a hammock outside of the Truscott Aparments in Aspen on Thursday, April 30, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Pitkin County COVID-19 Relief Fund By the Numbers

Issuance type and total

Shelter: $1.23 million

Food: $145,195

Gas: $14,135

Cash: $168,038

Other: $42,046

Total: $1.655 million

 

Cities where recipients live:

Aspen: 939

Basalt: 143

Carbondale 13 0.9%

Old Snowmass: 65

Redstone: 8

Snowmass: 263

Woody Creek: 14

Total: 1,445

Source: Pitkin County Human Services

The city of Aspen’s latest multimillion-dollar contribution toward COVID-19 relief efforts is focused on those who need help with rent or mortgages that live in Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority deed-restricted units.

Aspen City Council last month earmarked $1.5 million from its housing fund for rent relief as part of an overall $6 million response package.

It will be administered through Pitkin County’s human services COVID relief fund, which was established almost immediately after stay-at-home public health orders were issued in March, effectively shutting down the local economy to slow the spread of the disease.

The county will be billing the city biweekly, after it awards people who qualify for rent assistance.

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City Finance Director Pete Strecker said it’s most efficient and effective to let the county administer the rent-relief program, since it’s already set up.

“That seemed like a natural way to get the money out the door,” he said Thursday, adding that rent relief for individuals is a significant part of the city’s multifaceted COVID-19 response. “The workforce is something that the city wanted to focus on because they are a crucial component to a second phase” of opening the economy.

As of Thursday afternoon, the county relief fund had awarded more than $1.65 million to a total of 2,307 individuals with an average of $1,148 per household.

Roughly $1.3 million has gone to assisting people with shelter, according to Nan Sundeen, the county’s human services director.

She said to stretch the dollars more, while recognizing that Friday is May 1 when rent is due, the amount doled out will be reduced to a maximum of $1,350 for a household of up to two people, and $1,800 for households of three or more.

Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said of those who have qualified for mortgage or rent assistance, 25% have been in APCHA deed-restricted housing.

Sundeen said those applying for shelter assistance will qualify under the county’s criteria, which is based on a number of factors that play out during the application process, including if individuals are seeking other assistance through other local, state and federal programs.

She said she is working with the city and APCHA to confirm that applicants are living in deed-restricted units in the affordable housing program.

“There is a bureaucratic process knowing where all of those units are,” she said.

The city’s total contribution to the county’s relief fund now stands at $2 million.

The municipal government first gave $200,000 in March from the general fund to provide financial relief to city of Aspen residents for housing, utility, food and child care assistance.

The city put another $300,000 from the general fund into the county fund for general relief last month.

That fund also is backed by the county’s $1 million; the town of Snowmass contributed $200,000; and private donors also provided $200,000.

All total, more than $3 million will be distributed to area residents through the county fund.

Peacock said it’s designed as a bridge to the next phase — from the COVID-19 response to recovery.

“We can’t sustain a $1.8 million-a-month burn rate,” he said, adding that the county and city are not getting any financial assistance from the state and federal governments.

Government officials recognize that it will be a tough summer and fall financially for workers who may be unemployed as a result of COVID-19, and the relief fund could be tapped out.

“People need to start talking to their landlords if they can’t pay,” Sundeen said, adding that there is other assistance available. “We need to get people to apply for unemployment and most people qualify for (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

“The time to apply is now.”

APCHA has issued COVID-19 guidelines for homeowners and renters so they know what is expected of them during the crisis.

The city, which owns 236 units at Truscott, Aspen Country Inn and at the base of Smuggler Mountain, allowed April rent to be deferred and paid within six months.

APCHA Executive Director Mike Kosdrosky said six people have requested a deferral.

“We are looking at offering it for May but with the emergency financial assistance available for those needing help paying rent, we may forgo it,” he said. “That decision is forthcoming.”

Peacock lauded the city for its contributions for offering staff for the public health department’s incident management team and its financial assistance thus far.

“The city has put up a tremendous amount of funding,” he said.

The city also set aside up to $1 million for rent relief for Aspen businesses. As of Thursday afternoon, 114 businesses had applied, according to Strecker.

A committee is almost formed that will review the applications, and then grant money based on a set of criteria.

The offering is equal to one-third the monthly rent of a business for as many as three months and is good from April to July.

Businesses that are eligible for rent relief must have a landlord who is willing to also pay a third of the rent, with the tenant paying the remainder.

As part of its $6 million relief and economic stimulus package, Aspen City Council earmarked another $2.5 million out of the general fund for money to be distributed through the Aspen Community Foundation, as well as to area nonprofits that provide legal aid and mental health services, and community-at-large COVID-19 testing and personal protective equipment for health care workers.

Because the general fund does not have sufficient balances, the city borrowed from the Wheeler Opera House fund, which has roughly $33 million in it and is paid for with real estate transfer taxes.

It will have to be paid back over 10 years at an interest rate between 0.3% and 0.62%.

Also part of the package is the city’s $1 million from the Kids First child care fund which, like the housing fund, has enough reserves to cover the expenditures, according to city officials.

These relief efforts are being done as the city braces for major financial cutbacks because of an estimated $13 million in lost revenue in sales and lodging taxes.

City Council is expected to discuss budget cuts Monday at its work session.

csackariason@aspentimes.com


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