Residents told to vacate Ute City Place apartments |

Residents told to vacate Ute City Place apartments

Most residents of a 22-unit Aspen apartment building dedicated to employee housing will have 60 days to find another place to live after a local hotel recently decided to exercise its right to house its employees in the apartments.

That’s according to Mike Kosdrosky, executive director of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, which oversees nearly 3,000 deed-restricted units reserved for residents who work in the city and county. He said the landlord and property manager of the complex at 909 E. Cooper Ave. have not been complying with the deed restriction allowing the St. Regis Aspen Resort first dibs for its employees on open apartments.

“Believe me, we don’t want anybody turned out on the street,” Kosdrosky said. “But the hotel has that priority. If they’re not an employee of the St. Regis, there’s nothing we can do.”

St. Regis General Manager Heather Steenge-Hart echoed those comments Wednesday.

“We certainly are feeling very badly for anyone who has to leave and doesn’t want to,” she said. “But for us it’s about the ability to offer our associates housing in the manner allowed when the hotel was built.”

The news didn’t sit well with residents of the Ute City Place building, who only found out late last week and this week that they must move.

“I was literally in tears yesterday,” Kate Sartain said Wednesday. “It’s boggling my mind and the people who live here, too. These people live here year-round and work in the community.

“We pay our rent on time, we’re hard-working — only to be left literally on the streets.”

Part of the deal with the city that allowed the St. Regis to be built in 1989, when it was the Ritz-Carlton and owned by another company, was that employees would be housed at 909 E. Cooper Ave., Kosdrosky said. How long those St. Regis employees lived there, however, was not clear Wednesday.

It also was not clear when St. Regis employees stopped living at the building. Only one or two live there now, Steenge-Hart said.

What is clear is that the owner and property manager of the building have not been enforcing the St. Regis deed restriction in recent years and offering units first to hotel workers, Kosdrosky said. In addition, nine of the building’s 22 units are rented by people who never applied with the housing authority to be able to live there, he said.

“If any tenants didn’t file an application with APCHA — shame on them then,” Kosdrosky said. “They’re not playing by the rules, and most people in affordable housing are playing by the rules.”

Kosdrosky said he didn’t know how much the property owner and manager were charging people because, in many cases, the housing authority doesn’t have a current lease on file.

Attempts to reach the property manager Wednesday were not successful. Michael Duran, an attorney who represents the Meyerstein Trust, which owns the apartment complex, declined to comment.

Another hazy part of the story is why officials at the St. Regis did not ask until recently about housing availability at Ute City Place. Steenge-Hart acknowledged that it’s unclear how the building became filled with non-St. Regis employees, especially since she said Ute City Place is currently the hotel’s only option for employee housing.

Whatever the case, like many businesses in Aspen, the St. Regis is facing a housing crunch for its employees, Steenge-Hart said, which makes it difficult to retain and attract workers. It’s become especially bad in the past year or two, she said.

As of now, more than 30 St. Regis employees need housing, while the hotel is trying to recruit for 71 open positions, Steenge-Hart said.

“We just found out (the Ute City Place owner and property manager) weren’t following protocol and at least giving us first right of refusal,” Steenge-Hart said. “We realized we weren’t being adequately notified.”

So they notified the property owner and the housing authority they wanted to exercise their right to all the units in the building for their employees, Kosdrosky said.

Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority began looking in to the issue and discovered that not only were renters in nine units not authorized by the housing authority, 17 of the units were operating on a month-to-month lease, he said. That means their leases can be terminated in 30 days, Kosdrosky said.

However, Kosdrosky said he wanted renters in those 17 units to be allowed more time to find housing, so he asked the St. Regis to allow them 60 days and hotel officials agreed. He said he met with the property manager and Duran on Wednesday and said he would give them a letter today saying they have to send out notices to the occupants of the 17 units that they need to be out by Oct. 31. None have been given that notice yet, Kosdrosky said.

Those with leases that run past Oct. 31 will be allowed to stay through the duration of the lease, but it will not be renewed, according to Steenge-Hart and Kosdrosky.

All of which is of little consolation to residents who must find a place to live in a tight and expensive housing market.

Liza Hoar works 60-hours a week managing a restaurant in town and said she’s lived at Ute City Place for a year. She did qualify with the housing authority to live there, but is now on a month-to-month lease because her lease ran out in June.

“I’m still trying to figure out what to do,” she said. “There’s no housing left for employees in Aspen.

Hoar said she pays $995 a month for her one-bedroom apartment and has so far found only a run-down one-bedroom duplex to rent for $1,900 a month.

“Almost everyone in this building has worked in this town for over five years,” she said, “and now we’re basically being told we’re not good enough to live here — or that we haven’t put our time in.”

Sartain, who praised the area’s affordable-housing program, has lived in the building for almost six years and also qualified with the housing authority before she moved in. Her latest year-lease was up in July, so she too is on a month-to-month lease.

“There’s nowhere to go,” she said. “And I have to work in town. My job requires I live in Aspen.”

Caroline Swann said she’s lived in the building for four years and pointed out that now she will have to compete against her neighbors to find another place to live.

“It’s not like we’re transient people,” Swann said. “We’re people who have been living and working in the community for years. I understand (about the St. Regis), but it’s unfortunate.”

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