Floors, spare rooms fill up in midst of housing crunch | AspenTimes.com

Floors, spare rooms fill up in midst of housing crunch

Janet Urquhart

Roaring Fork Valley residents are offering rooms to rent in response to a housing crunch that left plenty of ski-season arrivals with no place to live.Still, many workers will probably wind up sleeping on floors until the lifts shut down.Whatever arrangements they’re making, the young foreigners who’ve flooded into town and have decided to stay are apparently making do, even if their accommodations are temporary.”That’s the way it was when I first got here,” said Tom McCabe, director of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority. “I slept on the floor any number of times that first winter.”Nonetheless, the housing office put out a call to local residents, urging them to offer up their spare rooms after seasonal employees crowded into a Dec. 12 City Council meeting and put the housing shortage in the spotlight.A number of locals responded. Motel rooms in Basalt, available to rent long term at reasonable rates, also came to light, McCabe said.The bulletin board at the housing office remains crowded with notices from residents up and down the valley who are advertising rooms to rent. When a group of some 10 workers stopped in at the housing office Tuesday, they used the lobby phone to start making calls as they scanned the bulletins, he said.”Our bulletin board was relatively empty when that council meeting happened,” McCabe noted.The housing authority operates only two seasonal housing complexes – Marolt Ranch and Burlingame Housing Inc. – and beds at both places filled up early this year.Despite the demand, the housing authority has no plans for additional units geared specifically to house the short-term, winter-season work force.”We don’t have any on our radar screen,” McCabe said. “Just as recently as last year, we were being yelled at for having too much.”The most obvious opportunities to add to the seasonal housing inventory, McCabe contends, rest with the Aspen Skiing Co., which boosts its work force by about 2,000 people each winter and currently houses 200 of them.Overall employment in Pitkin County, however, jumped by about 4,100 workers between November and December 2004, according to state data. McCabe suspects the county experienced an employment spike of at least that much again this year.The Skico has several housing projects in the works in Snowmass that would add about 100 units, including some seasonal housing. McCabe said he hopes local government makes a strong push for seasonal housing if and when the Skico brings forward a plan to redevelop the base of Buttermilk.A joint project between the Skico and housing authority could also boost the number of units there, McCabe mused.”Perhaps we can do some good there, working together,” he said. “So we can have more, rather than less.”In the meantime, the Skico is pursuing plans to raze the Holiday House on West Hopkins Avenue and rebuild the worker housing it owns there. The existing Holiday House contains 35 units and 64 beds; the company’s original redevelopment proposal would have reduced the unit count to 33 but upped the number of beds to 84.The project has been through several iterations before the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission. As currently proposed, the rebuilt Holiday House would contain 25 units and 74 bedrooms. The proposal is back before the P&Z on Jan. 3.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com