Housing lotteries regain old flair | AspenTimes.com

Housing lotteries regain old flair

Aspen Times Staff Report

Entering an employee housing lottery these days means watching hundreds of pingpong balls swirling in a big purple bucket as a member of the public plucks out the winner.

It’s more personal, and a bit more exciting, than the computer-based lotteries of the recent past and so far, it has been smooth sailing, said Cindy Christensen, who oversees the lotteries for the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority.

“I like the pingpong balls better because people can actually see what’s going on,” Christensen said. “It’s time-consuming, but so far things have been going well.”

About a month ago, the Housing Board decided to return to the old-fashioned lottery process after an applicant questioned the randomness of the computerized lotteries. None of the winners of the computer lotteries were drawn in sequential order, but sometimes a group of losing applicants appeared together in alphabetical blocks, raising concerns about the true randomness of the computerized drawings.

The computer lottery program is currently being evaluated. In the meantime, the pingpong balls are pinch-hitting.

Two lotteries have been conducted with the balls since the switch. One drawing used 535 balls for 94 applicants; the other involved 137 balls for 24 people. Applicants have from five to nine balls – or chances – depending on how long they’ve been employed in Pitkin County.

The Housing Authority used the pingpong drawings for years before switching to a computerized system. The growing number of applicants for worker housing and the complexity that comes with giving various applicants a varying number of chances made the pingpong drawings unwieldy.

It takes longer to prepare for a lottery and to verify the winners after the pingpong drawings, according to Christensen. A process that used to take “about 15 seconds” now can take about an hour, she said, but with smaller lotteries, the task has been pretty manageable.

The real challenge will come when a lottery is conducted for a brand new project with multiple units, rather than a single unit in an existing complex that comes up for sale.

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