Local worker: Determination big key in navigating road to affordable housing

Finding affordable housing in Aspen, Snowmass can be a ‘weird, miracle kind of situation’

Alex Rager sits in the trunk of her car in which she called home for six months in the driveway of her now home that she shares with 4 roommates in Basalt on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Alex Rager believes the search for affordable housing in the Roaring Fork Valley can sometimes boil down to luck and timing.

She would know: The 25-year-old moved into a Basalt duplex on Nov. 1 after spending all summer and most of the fall living in her car while working in Snowmass Village, first for an adventure company and now for the Patagonia store on the Snowmass Mall.

“When you least expect it and when you most need it is when things happen,” she said.

She started working in Snowmass in June but had been living in her car in Portland since mid-May as a way to ride out some hard times and embrace a nomadic lifestyle.

“Moving into my car was a total choice and I don’t regret a day of it, but it’s a whole different kind of functioning,” said Rager, who is also a writer.

Rager appreciated the independence and mobility she had, but she also experienced “bouts of loneliness” and a longing for community connection. There was a practical matter, too, as temperatures started to drop.

So Rager spent nearly two months in the fall on the hunt through word-of-mouth tips, Facebook posts and a flyer pinned to the Bonfire Coffee bulletin board in Carbondale.

“I was very prepared to sleep on couches,” she said. “I was prepared to make my friends breakfast and dinner and in exchange for their couch or do their laundry … just to stay because I felt something here.”

Rager was getting “really desperate” when her future roommates reached out about the opening in the midvalley Holland Hills neighborhood for $1,000 a month.

“It is a miracle, it’s a weird, miracle kind of situation,” she said. “I think the more you put it out there, the more people know — the more opportunity there is for something really, really great to come your way.”

That it takes a miracle to find affordable housing around here isn’t a shocker in this neck of the woods.

In Snowmass Village, for instance, it can take half a decade or more of work in the village before applicants rise to the top of the rental waitlist for town-managed inventory; after the town’s deed-restricted Coffey Place housing lottery in January, one winner prayed with his family at the site of the unit he hoped to win and another said winning “felt like lightning struck.”

The lack of attainable workforce housing options regularly infiltrates council chamber conversations and barstool chats alike on everything from short-term rental inventory and regulations to the labor shortage to community character amid growing concerns about the longevity of the region’s local spirit into the next generation. (Then, too, there is that matter of a limited availability of municipally managed affordable housing and what to do about it.)

Rager has seen the impacts firsthand as she witnessed so many other young valley newcomers struggle to find long-term housing. Opportunity is just a fraction of the equation as prospective tenants on the hunt face steep upfront costs, pricey rents and a smattering of short sublet lease offerings, among other factors.

“People make a choice, and lots of people leave in my age group,” Rager said. “I have a lot of people that I met through my first job when I first got here who have gone back home, or have since tried to get a house and just keep coming up short monetarily or what other factors push them out.”

It may sound bleak, but it doesn’t have to be, according to Rager.

“I’d love to see more local landlords or real estate owners or whatever come back around to the essence of what keeps us going, which is the labor. … I think this valley would be much richer if we allowed individuals such as myself and (other workers) to feel like they can be a part of it,” she said.

She sees herself becoming one of the people who sticks around for a few years or a dozen or more. Rager doesn’t think she’s alone in that mindset, and she’s optimistic, too, that determination will carry that so-called community character into the next generation.

“I was determined to stay — I think that’s a huge part, that I think if you really want to be here, you’re going to find a way, and if you can find a way then you can thrive here and I’m ready to start on that thrive process. … You also have a culture here where it’s like, once you’re here, and you’re a ski bum, and you did the seasonal thing and you like it enough, you don’t leave,” she said. “You just — you realize that what you have is so precious, no matter what you’re paying for it.”


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