Housing odds too slim? | AspenTimes.com

Housing odds too slim?

Janet Urquhart

As any frequent participant in Aspen’s housing lotteries knows, the odds of winning are slim. Actually, housing hopefuls would probably be pleased if their chances were that good.Local housing officials are wondering if the housing lottery – the method of doling out coveted worker housing when the supply doesn’t meet the demand – needs to be reworked. At issue is whether longtime local workers should be given greater odds based on their tenure, or whether some other adjustment to the lottery process would be more equitable, given the number of workers bidding for a chance to buy a residence.Stratospheric real estate prices in Aspen and Pitkin County mean purchasing a home or condo on the free market is out of the question for most of the resort’s working populace. Winning a lottery presents an opportunity to buy a unit at a below-market price, though it comes with some conditions: Its appreciation is capped and the buyer must continue to hold down a full-time, local job.The housing lottery, though, is something of a crapshoot. A unit can be won by a relative newcomer, while someone who has been bidding on units for a decade can continue to come up empty.”What we’re concerned about is there are people who have been bidding for so long and haven’t won,” said Cindy Christensen, housing operations manager for the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority. “I just know every time a person comes in to bid, and they’ve bid for 10 years and haven’t won, it’s disheartening for us. It’s disheartening for them.”The housing office used to conduct lotteries with pingpong balls; each bidder was assigned a number, written on a ball, and everyone had an equal chance at winning. Then, the housing board adopted a “weighted” system that gave longtime workers slightly better odds. A computerized system that could handle the more complex lottery went into use.The way the system currently works, a worker with four to less than eight years in the county has five chances; eight to less than 12 years, six chances; 12 to less than 16 years, seven chances; 16 to less than 20 years, eight chances; and more than 20 years, nine chances.Statistically, the escalating odds are so slight, it gives false hope to bidders who’ve been working in the county for a long time, Christensen said.Anyone who has worked in the county for at least four years has what the housing office calls “priority status” in the lottery system. Workers with fewer than four years of work history can participate in a lottery, but anyone with priority status rises to the top of the list. The reality is, so many bidders have priority status that anyone without it doesn’t bother to enter the drawings.At least one housing board member, Chairwoman Sheri Sanzone, wonders if the four-year threshold is too much. Recruiting employees who will have to wait four years before they can reasonably expect to have any chance in a lottery is difficult, she said.Other housing officials simply wonder if the odds ought to increase more significantly with tenure.”I just feel it needs to be addressed. It needs to be looked at,” Christensen said.”I don’t know what will work, but through the years, so many people have said to me, ‘There’s got to be a better way,’ ” said Marcia Goshorn, housing board member. “A lot of people would rather just go back to one person, one ball. At least they know they have a level playing surface.”In Snowmass Village, which runs its own worker housing program separately from Aspen and Pitkin County, top priority goes to those who’ve been working at least three years in the town. Among workers with top priority, the odds of winning a housing lottery increase more significantly with tenure than they do in the Aspen-Pitkin County system.A Snowmass worker with seven years or less of employment history gets two chances. It doubles to four chances for someone with more than seven years but less than 11; for 11 to less than 15 years, it’s six chances; with 15 or more years of work history, a participant has eight chances.No formal proposal for revamping the Aspen-Pitkin County lottery has yet come forward, but the housing board is tentatively scheduled to address the issue at its March 16 meeting. (Check aspenhousingoffice.com for upcoming housing board agendas.)”I’m hoping as many people as possible come and give us input on it,” Goshorn said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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