It’s time to buy at Burlingame

Abigail Eagye

Applications for the Burlingame Ranch affordable housing project are due at 4 p.m. sharp Wednesday, Sept. 6, leaving less than a week to fill out forms to enter.And Monday is a holiday, meaning government offices are closed, so housing officials are reminding people not to delay any longer.When it comes to affordable housing, the rules are about as clear as mud.In general, lottery applicants must provide evidence of income and work history in Pitkin County to enter the lottery. That means rifling through boxes of past tax forms and, potentially, a visit to the Social Security office in Glenwood Springs – also closed Monday. And if you filed your taxes electronically but did not print out a copy, you might have missed the boat. The IRS will send copies of W2s (for a fee), but good luck dealing with that agency over Labor Day weekend.But for those who have their paperwork together – or time for a trip to Glenwood – there’s still time to get an application in.The ins and outs of lottery priorities can be frustrating and confusing for everyone, said Cindy Christensen, housing authority operations manager. So pay attention, because you might have more of an advantage than you thought – or perhaps less.Basics on required work historiesIt’s a myth that a person has to have lived locally for more than four years to enter the lottery.”The day you start working in Pitkin County full time, you qualify,” Christensen said.But the lottery is based on a priority system that gives preference to people who have lived and worked here longer, and “the majority of our units never go outside that top priority,” she said.Because there is an application fee, Christensen said her department discourages people from entering the lottery if they have no real chance of winning.”We don’t want to take their money frivolously,” she said, although she stressed that doesn’t mean a person isn’t eligible.A single person or a “household” can bid on a unit. A household can be a family or a group of unrelated people who have joined together to buy a unit. All the adults in a household must be full-time employees in Pitkin County to enter. Dependents count as members of a household, but naturally, they are not required to be working full time.Work history is not combined for households, however. The housing authority looks only at the work history of whoever has been here the longest. So if a couple consists of a man who has worked here for 10 years and a woman who has worked here for five, their household is evaluated with a 10-year work history.Who gets priorityEssentially, the lottery gives priority to people who have worked full time in the county longer.For people bidding on a one-bedroom unit, a person who has worked in Pitkin County for more than four years has priority. A person who has worked here from one to four years is next. And a person who has worked here less than a year is last.The same scale applies whether one person or a couple is bidding on a one-bedroom unit – again, based on the longer work history, not the combined history.Complication No. 1: Number of bedroomsNow let’s add a wrinkle. The goal of the housing authority is essentially to fill bedrooms. As the number of bedrooms increases, greater priority is given to a household that can fill those bedrooms – even if a single person has worked in the county much longer.So in a lottery for a two-bedroom unit, a household with two people will trump a single person bidding on the unit. It doesn’t matter if the household is a couple, or two friends, or a single parent with a child. Any combination of two people simply has priority over one. But a household with more than two people doesn’t have an advantage. So a couple with a child does not have priority over a single person with a child.Complication No. 2: Cheaters and familiesThe process is the same for three-bedroom units, adding more tiers to the top. That would make a nine-tiered chart, but a number of years ago, a group of three people won the lottery for a three-bedroom unit, and the next week, one of them bought out the other two. That meant a single person owned a three-bedroom unit, undermining the goal of the housing program, which is to house as many employees as possible.Because of that incident, city and county officials directed the housing authority to add another wrinkle: dependents.The principle is the same: Three people trump two people, who trump one person.But in a three-person household, if at least one of the members is a dependent, that household trumps one without dependents. Having more than one dependent in a three-person household does not bring a greater advantage, and dependents in a two-person household do not garner an advantage at all.So the new tiers look like this, from highest to lowest: Three people (including one dependent) with more than four years work history Three people (including one dependent) with one to four years work history Three people (including one dependent) with less than one year work history Three people, no dependents, with more than four years work history Three people, no dependents, with one to four years work history Three people, no dependents, with less than one year work history Two people (two adults OR one adult with dependent), more than four years work history Two people (two adults OR one adult with dependent), one to four years work history Two people (two adults OR one adult with dependent), less than one year work history One person, more than four years work history One person, one to four years work history One person, less than one year work history.Family mattersThe rules for three-bedrooms can seem complicated, and many people find them unfair because a family that just moved to the county this year can beat a group of three people who have decades of work experience.But in addition to “getting the biggest bang out of the buck,” Christensen surmised that the city and county officials who set the rules also have to balance the needs of the community. She declined to speak directly for city and county elected officials, both present and past, who set the rules. But she did say the sentiment seemed to be that there was a need to house families closer to the city.”I don’t think they value anybody more than anybody else,” she said. “What they see is more families moving downvalley.”A couple expecting a child count as a family of three, so it’s worth a call to the housing office to find out if your expectant family qualifies.Different units in the Burlingame development fall into different categories. Lower categories have lower price tags, but they also have lower maximum incomes to qualify. There is also a limit on net assets. For complete information on categories, go to the housing authority’s website at more information on lottery rules, visit the website’s frequently asked questions, or call the housing office at 920-5050.