Officials ready to drop waiting list for housing | AspenTimes.com

Officials ready to drop waiting list for housing

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Construction crews work to get lanscape features done at the new Truscot Housing site. New waiting list procedures will change the way the Pitkin County workforce will be placed on the often long list for afordable rental units. Daniel Bayer photo.

Local workers mired near the bottom of a lengthy waiting list for an affordable apartment may find their odds improving soon.

The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority is poised to do away with the wait list altogether and advertise its rental units as they become available, much like it does with its sale units.

The Housing Board was unanimous Wednesday in its desire to eliminate the universally despised list. “We all agree the wait list sucks,” said chairman Tim Semrau, an Aspen city councilman.

Board members were split, though, on whether to award rental units to workers solely on the basis of seniority in the work force.

Housing office staffers suggested advertising apartments and letting interested renters come to them. The unit would ultimately go to the prospective tenant with the longest work history in Pitkin County. A lottery would be conducted to pick the winner if workers with equal tenure applied for the apartment.

But Semrau suggested that approach would eliminate a newcomer’s shot at an apartment. Lotteries for the Housing Authority’s sale units are weighted to give participants slightly better odds based on their years of employment, but everyone who enters has some chance of winning, he pointed out.

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“This creates a system that gives total entitlement to someone who has been hanging out for years at The Cantina,” he said. “I think we have to think this through carefully.”

Semrau advocated a weighted lottery for the rental units, perhaps one chance for every year of employment.

Member Shellie Roy, a county commissioner, balked. Longtime local workers should simply have first dibs on apartments, she argued.

“I will harass you guys forever if we do another weighted lottery system,” said Roy, a vocal critic of the existing lottery system for sale units.

“It doesn’t matter if you’ve been here 25 years. You can still finish dead last,” she said.

“It’s horrible. Someone tries for five, eight years and keeps losing,” Semrau agreed. “Maybe we should talk about different weighting for the sales lottery, too.”

The board expects to take up the issue again next month. Its proposal to replace the wait list with a new system will ultimately require the approval of the City Council and Pitkin County commissioners, according to Cindy Christensen, interim housing director.

Whatever the fate of the wait list, those workers who are on it now should have first priority for the new apartments under construction at Truscott Place, the board agreed.

The wait list currently contains about 700 names, according to Marty Suits, administrative assistant with the housing office. When an apartment opens up, staffers may make dozens of calls before they find an interested taker, she said.

“I called over 100 people one day for a Truscott unit,” she said.

Prospective renters must call and notify the Housing Authority that they wish to remain on the list every three months.

People may wait years to move up the list, but if they’re called twice and offered apartments that they don’t want, their name goes to the bottom.

“Dropping to the bottom of the list is just brutal,” Suits said.

The housing office has already been informing workers that the list’s days are numbered. Renters are unanimously supportive of the proposed change, she told the board.

Even newcomers who have little tenure as local workers are voicing support for a system based on longevity, according to board member Marcia Goshorn.

“They feel like this is a better chance than what they’ve got now,” she said.

The proposed approach will, however, require workers in the rental pool to file a copy of their tax returns each year so the housing office can determine their income eligibility, said Victoria Giannola, Housing Authority assistant director.

They must also submit a copy of their W2 forms for each year they’ve worked in the county to document their work history. They will receive credit for years worked even if they’re not contiguous, Giannola said.

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