RFTA and Skico are taking combined 40 apartments in Aspen’s city-owned Marolt housing complex

The city-owned 100-unit Marolt Ranch housing complex.
Rick Carroll/The Aspen Times |

After sitting at 30% occupancy a month ago, the city of Aspen-owned Marolt Ranch seasonal housing is completely full for the ski season.

All 97 dorm-style apartments have been spoken for, after Aspen City Council last month relaxed the lease terms for employers so they did not need to commit to the typically required September and October rents.

Employers were reluctant to sign up due to the uncertainty about the tourism season this winter, and out of a level of caution they were unable to commit to these units early on.

Nov. 1 is the new start date for the leases, which go to April 30, according to Mark Nussmeier, assistant property manager for the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority.

He confirmed Thursday that the complex is sold out and is accepting names for the waiting list.

Roughly half of the units are leased by employers in Pitkin County, which this year includes the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.

The RFTA board earlier this month approved a supplemental budget request of $112,500 to pay the monthly $1,250 rent for 15 units over six months, according to Jamie Tatsuno, the agency’s communications manager.

RFTA will charge its employees $950 a month for each unit, which will bring in $71,250 of rental income assuming an occupancy rate of just over 83%.

The net cost to RFTA is $41,250 for Marolt housing.

This is the first time the transportation agency is using Marolt due to more staffing needs because of COVID-19, according to Tatsuno.

She said in a normal winter season, RFTA would need between 40 and 45 seasonal housing bedrooms.

“This year, due to COVID-19 and social distancing constraints on vehicle capacity, which is requiring us to provide extensive backup service for scheduled regional commuter service, RFTA is looking to hire approximately 60 to 70 seasonal bus operators, plus four to five maintenance workers,” she said in an email. “So, depending upon where the seasonal employees are coming from, we could need up to 15 to 25 additional bedrooms of seasonal housing, which is why RFTA leased 15 units from the Marolt. … These are suitable for only one employee per unit, … and why it is considering leasing more housing from other sources.”

The Marolt apartments each have two rooms and a kitchenette, and maximum occupancy is three people per unit.

Aspen Skiing Co., which routinely uses Marolt for seasonal workers, many of whom are here on J-1 visas, has reserved 25 units for the winter.

Nussmeier said RFTA and Skico are the only employers who have booked more than a couple of units.

The complex is usually set aside in the summer for the Music Associates of Aspen for its music students, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic the festival was canceled and there was no need to have housing.

The city took a $500,000 loss in rental income because it let MAA out of its lease for 2020, but made up about $90,000 in rent receipts from June through August for individuals who rented the units, according to City Finance Director Pete Strecker.

That reflects an average of 25 units rented, or one quarter, this summer.

“It was expected that the property would not rent all units for the summer months and some loss was anticipated when the initial decision to waive the lease with the MAA for this year was discussed and supported by (City Council),” Strecker wrote in an email. “Council made a decision, just as it had done with the rent relief program for local businesses, to support an important group within our community.”