No easy answers to housing shortage | AspenTimes.com

No easy answers to housing shortage

Janet Urquhart

Although they were sympathetic, Aspen City Council members had little advice Monday for a roomful of ski-season arrivals who haven’t found a place to live.A tight rental market has many resort workers bunking on friends’ sofas and floors. Council members offered little reason to hope the situation will improve, though they later approved a request to allow use of the vacant Holland House lodge to house Aspen Skiing Co. employees this winter.”I think we’re all aware that we have more employees or visitors this year than we have housing,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud.”I’m not sure this is entirely the city’s responsibility,” she added, suggesting employers who arrange for foreign workers should play a role in finding them a place to stay.”I don’t have any easy answers for you,” said Councilwoman Rachel Richards, noting that many year-round employees live as far as 40 or 60 miles away.At Councilman Torre’s urging, however, Housing Director Tom McCabe agreed to set up a session this week to dispense information to the young, mostly foreign, workers who haven’t found a place to live for the ski season. The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, however, doesn’t have anything specific to offer, except advise to look for housing downvalley, he said.The units controlled by the housing authority are full, but staffers have been checking to make sure homeowners who have an accessory dwelling unit that is supposed to be occupied are, in fact, renting them out, he said.For Brazilian Marilia Bassetto, however, Monday’s discussion gave her no direction. The Brazilian came to Aspen for the winter to find employment and an apartment, hoping to improve her English and understanding of life in the United States. Her first big lesson so far is that affordable housing in Aspen is tough to come by.”It’s really hard to find somewhere,” she said. “I don’t know what to do.”I think it isn’t your fault that we don’t have a home to live in,” she assured the council. “I think we came here with the hope that you could help us.”Bassetto wound up acting as the representative for the group of workers crammed into the council’s chambers. They gathered at the meeting in response to a notice apparently circulated by local gadfly Toni Kronberg, which read: “Have a Job? Need Housing? Attend a City Council meeting tonight.”Some council members criticized the notice as misleading; they worried that workers expected housing if they showed up.”Is there anybody here who doesn’t have a place to sleep tonight?” asked Councilman Jack Johnson, scanning the crowd. No hands went up.He also urged any workers who felt misled about housing by an employer to contact the council.The Skico, which boosts its work force by about 2,000 employees for the winter, isn’t hiring any more ski-season workers than usual, said Jim Laing, vice president of human resources. Anyone who was promised housing as part of Skico employment has been provided with a bed, he said, and the company is continuing to seek additional worker housing.”We take this very seriously and we’re working diligently to find solutions,” he said.The council approved one solution last night – a temporary-use permit to allow use of the Holland House as housing. The new owners of the South Aspen Street property are leasing it to the Skico for essentially the cost of the taxes and utilities; the company intends to rent the 23 rooms there to 27 people, though the council hinted that occupancy could be bumped up a bit. One on-site manager will reside at the lodge, according to the Skico.Rents of $275 to $375 per person, per month, are envisioned. The lodging will be for entry-level employees.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com