Local government throws a pandemic lifeline to the unemployed | AspenTimes.com
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Local government throws a pandemic lifeline to the unemployed

COVID-19 Relief Fund by the Numbers:

Issuance Type - Total

Shelter - $1,606,716.37

HOA - $8,487.93

Food - $181,725.00

Gas - $14,885.00

Cash - $195,043.23

Other - $42,046.00

Total - $2,048,903.53

City Total %

Aspen 1157 65.15%

Basalt 168 9.46%

Carbondale 13 0.73%

Old SMV 80 4.50%

Redstone 8 0.45%

Snowmass Village 332 18.69%

Thomasville 0 0.00%

Woody Creek 18 1.01%

Total 1776 100.00%

Household Data

Total Requests Paid - 1775

Total Individuals Assisted - 2865

Household w/ Children >18 - 341

Children >18 - 546

Average benefit per household - $1,154.31

The upper Roaring Fork Valley government’s multimillion-dollar response to their citizens who are reeling from the economic crisis resulting from COVID-19 is doing what’s intended, which is to provide a bridge to recovery.

“It buys some time and I have a little peace of mind,” said Jugo Slavkovic, who received money from the Pitkin County human services COVID relief fund to cover her April rent.

Slavkovic, who has been unemployed since the restaurant she works at, L’Hostaria, closed March 14, said without the rent assistance she’d be in real trouble. She is not collecting unemployment.

She lives at Burlingame seasonal housing, and is recovering from COVID-19, which she tested positive for two weeks after she stopped working.

“I am 90% recovered,” she said, noting she suffered from a fever, a loss of taste and smell, exhaustion and aches. “It’s like the flu but more intense.”

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She is one of almost 3,000 people who have received assistance from the relief fund, which was set up by the county shortly after an outbreak of COVID-19 cases emerged in Aspen, and public health orders shut down the resort community in mid-March.

As of last week, the fund had doled out $2 million to 2,865 people for everything from rent and mortgages to food and gas to gift cards to pay for essentials.

County agencies are helping applicants navigate other potential resources, both locally and through the state, to help with other monthly expenses.

Aspen Family Connections is one of those agencies. It has been delivering food weekly to a single mother of three children who lives at the Truscott affordable housing complex and is not on unemployment.

“I so appreciate our community,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified. “It’s a very big deal what they are doing.”

Aspen Family Connections also is helping her with utilities, she said.

The relief fund covered her May rent, which is $1,029 for her two-bedroom apartment.

She also received a $200 gift card from the fund, which she is using for diapers, baby wipes and other essentials for her children who are 8, 4 and 2 years old.

She’s not been able to work because she needs to care for her kids, who are no longer in school or day care due to public health orders designed to restrict people’s movements to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The woman said she doesn’t feel comfortable going to the grocery store with her young children, who don’t understand what the virus is, but call it “green bugs outside.”

“I’m scared,” she said of her family’s health and safety. “What if I get sick? Who takes care of them?”

But she said she does not feel alone, and is relying on her community members to help in these difficult and unprecedented times.

“Thank you everybody,” she said.

In total, the relief fund had $3 million funneled into it by the city of Aspen, the county, Snowmass Village and private donors.

The city’s latest contribution is $1.5 million specifically for rent and mortgage relief for people who live in deed-restricted units in the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority inventory.

That represents a little more than 3,000 units, but not all will receive assistance.

Nan Sundeen, director of human services for the county, said the criteria to determine need for those seeking assistance in May is based on the proportion of an individual’s revenue to expenses.

“Some people are now getting (Payroll Protection Program money), or unemployment benefits and stimulus checks, and (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) benefits,” she said. “All those things are helping to move people into a more secure and sometimes self-sufficient position for now.”

Those who live in APCHA units can reapply for shelter assistance, with the county using the city’s dedicated housing fund to draw from.

Rosalyn Pergande, who owns a deed-restricted unit at Aspen Highlands, where she also owns an art gallery, received assistance in April to help pay her HOA dues, which are almost as much as the mortgage.

“I’m very appreciative to have that HOA help because everything helps when you are trying to put food on the table,” she said.

Pergande said she plans to reapply in June, since her gallery is still closed and she, along with the local artists she represents, has lost a lot of revenue since the shutdown.

“March is the biggest grossing month of the winter,” she said.

Derek Attema and his wife, Ryan Hittle, who work as servers at Kenichi and Steak House No. 316, respectively, lost thousands of dollars in income when the restaurants were forced to close.

“It would have helped to have those two weeks in March,” Attema said. “We are trimming bills and keeping every penny we have right now because we are worried about how it’s going to play out.”

The couple, who own an APCHA unit at Hunter Creek, applied for relief through the county fund but were denied, based on the fact they have money in savings.

They are both on unemployment, but they don’t want to have to rely on that, Attema said.

When they do get to go back to work, Attema and Hittle said because of social-distancing protocols and public health orders, they expect their shifts to be reduced, along with their wages and tips.

To weather the storm and keep expenses minimal, the couple is making their own home brew for personal consumption, which costs an average of 35 cents a beer.

“We are trying to pull our costs down and making booze is one of them,” Hittle said.

She, like many others in the restaurant industry, were enjoying good times with the peak of spring break and the resort economy hitting numbers well over last year’s season.

“We were breaking records every night,” Hittle said.

Sundeen said the fund is helping mostly individuals who were on the front lines in the hospitality industry and critical to supporting the resort economy.

“They are gig workers who rely on cash and the big cashola weeks were cut short,” she said.

Sundeen said she strongly encourages people to apply for unemployment and SNAP, and to defer mortgages if they can.

“This is about supporting the community for as long as we can because this is going to go on for a while,” she said of the crisis. “We don’t know if (the relief money) is going to last through June.”

Sundeen said to stretch the dollars more, the amount doled out will be reduced to a maximum of $1,350 for a household of as many as two people, and $1,800 for households of three or more.

She said given the sheer number of people applying and learning about situations with their landlords, or subletting under the radar, “it speaks to me about the housing crisis we have here.”

APCHA Executive Director Mike Kosdrosky said last week that 13 individuals who live in one of 230 units owned by the city in either Truscott or Aspen Country Inn have not paid rent since the crisis began, or have not provided an update on assistance.

The city allowed April rent to be deferred and paid within six months. Kosdrosky said fewer than a dozen people have requested a deferral.

May is a different story, he said.

“We have not deferred May rent because of the relief fund,” he said, noting that APCHA and the city want to work with people. “We are not being punitive, … there are no late fees and there’s an opportunity to make a payment plan.”

For those who need to understand the housing landscape, APCHA has issued COVID-19 guidelines for homeowners and renters, which is on the agency’s website.

Andrew Held, president and chief operating officer of Birge & Held, a national private equity, real estate investment, construction and management firm that recently acquired the 148-unit Centennial rental complex, said between 25% and 30% of tenants needed accommodations in order to make April rent payments.

“We are working with each resident, and will continue to do so as long as necessary and to assist them through the current crisis,” he said, adding that Birge & Held is waiving $50 late fees and providing $50 credits for those who can pay in full and on time. “We want to make sure that people have a safe home and we’ll work through it. … We’ll be good landlords”

He said a lot of the tenants at Centennial work in the service industry and were preparing for the season to wind down and had their rent money stashed away for the offseason.

Held acknowledged, however, that it’s likely going to be a long haul.

“It may be months before the city gets back on its feet as far as the economy goes,” he said. “The way that Pitkin County and the city of Aspen have stepped up is amazing and it’s really unique. … It’s a huge resource.”

Mitzi Ledingham, a retired county human services employee who is working temporarily for the relief fund, said the majority of the people she’s interviewed work in the tourism industry and live in either Centennial or Burlingame Ranch.

“This fund helps them get one foot in front of the other,” she said from her home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “It’s really been a lifeline for these families.”

Pergande, the homeowner at Highlands, serves on her HOA board, which has notified all of the residents about the relief fund.

“Most of the people in our building are unemployed,” she said. “The city of Aspen has really stepped up to the plate, and we are very fortunate to be in this town and this small community.”

The other recipients echoed that sentiment.

“I want to thank Pitkin County and all the people who are helping us and realizing we need help,” Slavkovic said.

Sundeen said the local governments’ response is emblematic of the type of community the Roaring Fork Valley is.

“It’s a privilege to help,” she said. “People are so grateful.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com


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