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Harper: Change housing lottery

Janet Urquhart

Housing lotteries should be conducted in much the same way the state hands out coveted hunting licenses, according to a Pitkin County commissioner.

Commissioner Shellie Roy Harper urged the Aspen City Council Monday to consider altering the way lotteries are conducted to award affordable housing units to workers.

The current system, which offers no assurance to bidders that they will ever win a lottery – and a chance to buy a home – is “completely demeaning and demoralizing,” she argued.

The council unanimously adopted the proposed 2000 Housing Guidelines, which govern the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority’s housing program, but agreed to further discussion of the lottery issue.

The county commissioners are scheduled to adopt the guidelines on Wednesday.

Harper wants both boards to consider revamping the lottery before the annual guidelines come up again for approval in 2001.

She suggested local government look into a lottery system used by the Colorado Division of Wildlife to award hunting licenses to see if it can be applied to the housing program.

The system boosts a participant’s odds based on the number of lotteries he or she has previously entered and lost, she said. Harper said she has been told the system can guarantee an individual will win eventually. It’s more important to the DOW that unsuccessful bidders eventually get an elk license than it is to Pitkin County to make sure housing bidders eventually get a home, she suggested.

“I don’t buy the analogy,” interjected Councilman Tony Hershey. “What I think is demoralizing is we don’t have enough housing.”

The current housing lottery system gives slightly greater odds to participants based on the number of years they have lived and worked in the county.

But, said Harper, in a lottery involving hundreds of people bidding on one unit, that approach may boost one’s odds of winning from one in 300 to one in 200. In other words, she said, they hardly have any chance at all.

There are people in the community, said Harper, who have entered dozens of lotteries and have never won.

“Eventually, someone should know that they will win. Our system could let you enter 200 lotteries and never win,” she said.

Mayor Rachel Richards questioned the potential for abuse. Someone who already owns a unit could enter lotteries willy-nilly to rack up points for use in a lottery for a unit he actually wants.


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