Better odds to win housing? | AspenTimes.com

Better odds to win housing?

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Longtime local workers should enjoy better odds of winning a lottery for affordable housing than they currently do, the Aspen City Council and Pitkin County commissioners agreed Tuesday.

Revamping the lottery was but one of a number of changes in the rules governing the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority that won an informal nod from the elected officials at yesterday?s joint work session.

Council members and commissioners also agreed single people should have priority for studios, but will have to continue competing with couples for one-bedroom units in housing lotteries. But elected officials don?t want to see any more single buyers winding up with a three-bedroom unit, which occurred at Highlands Village when the eligible three-person households dropped out of the running.

Commissioners and the council also agreed to create new higher-priced categories of deed-restricted housing and loosened the rules on RO, or resident occupied, housing ? the most expensive category of worker housing.

Lottery odds, always a hot topic for local workers hoping to win a chance to buy a home, have been the focus of repeated debates by the housing board. At one time, anyone who had lived and worked in Pitkin County for at least four years had equal odds in a drawing.

Then, several years ago, the city and county established the current, weighted lottery, which gives longtime workers slightly better odds than a relative newcomer.

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Currently, someone who has worked here from four to eight years has five chances in a drawing; eight to 12 years, six chances; 12-16 years, seven chances; 16-20 years, eight chances; and more than 20 years, nine chances.

?Right now, it?s not weighted that heavily if you?ve been here 20 years,? observed Councilman Tim Semrau.

Mayor Helen Klanderud called for a change. ?I think if you?ve lived here 20 years, you should get more than nine chances when a person who has been here four to eight years gets five,? she said.

Cindy Christensen, operations manager at the housing office, has proposed a weighted lottery that starts with one chance for those with a tenure of four to eight years and tops out at five chances for participants who have worked in the county for more than 20 years.

That would change the odds dramatically, she said.

?I know it?s hard for people to realize this, but it makes a huge difference,? Christensen said.

The proposal will come back to the council and commissioners for formal approval, along with other changes to the housing guidelines, before the end of the year.

The amended guidelines should also include new sale prices for Categories 1-4, plus the new Categories 5-7 and the revamped RO, the elected officials agreed.

The sale prices in the new categories will see some reworking first, though. The proposed jump from a Category 4 one-bedroom ($213,500) to a Category 5 one-bedroom ($308,300), for example, was much greater than the corresponding income limits for the two categories, Commissioner Shellie Roy noted.

Commissioner Jack Hatfield voiced reservations about both the new categories and the new RO rules, given the perceived need for more housing for lower-income workers.

?What is our philosophy? Who are we serving?? he said.

The revamped RO rules would allow the developer to set the initial sale price, but the resale price of the home would be limited to 3 percent or CPI appreciation. Buyers would be limited to $900,000 in assets, but face no income cap.

?You mean you could make $5 million?? Klanderud said.

Buyers would have to work full time in Pitkin County for at least four years to qualify and can?t own other residential property in the Roaring Fork River drainage. In addition, RO units would be capped at 2,200 gross square feet, plus an allowance for a garage and basement.

Those parameters would likely keep someone who could afford a free-market home in Aspen ? the individual earning $5 million ? from buying a deed-restricted, RO unit, Christensen said.

The higher-priced categories and revamped RO were recommended by the housing board in hopes of spurring private-sector development of deed-restricted housing, which no longer occurs, according to Semrau, a developer himself.

The average price of the deed-restricted units in a development can?t exceed Category 4, he pointed out.

?This isn?t so someone can go build [Categories] 5, 6 and 7,? Semrau said. ?For every Category 5 they build, they have to build a Category 3.?

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

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