RFTA can’t ﬁll worker housing
ASPEN – The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority couldn’t rent all of its employee housing units this winter even though it hired a traditional number of workers.
The bus agency typically has no problem filling 20 seasonal beds that it has a contract to rent at the Burlingame affordable housing project, but this year there was demand for only seven, according to Dan Blankenship, CEO of RFTA.
In addition, it filled all four of its one-bedroom, year-round units at Burlingame, but occupancy is only 35 percent at 10 seasonal two-bedroom units.
The occupancy is only 63 percent at the Parker House Apartments in Carbondale, where RFTA has one one-bedroom unit, 10 two-bedroom units and four cabins. Occupancy is 70 percent at the agency’s Main Street Apartments in Carbondale, where RFTA has three one-bedroom units and two two-bedroom units.
The vacancies exist even though RFTA offered incentives.
“In order to encourage RFTA seasonal drivers to rent RFTA employee housing, facilities department staff ‘advertised’ heavily among the new hires last fall, reduced rental rates and were as flexible as possible with rental terms,” said a memo from Mike Hermes, RFTA’s director of facilities and trails, to the board of directors.
The incentives weren’t enough to overcome market conditions.
“The continued soft economy in the valley, a glut of rental units on the open market and the lack of early season snow have combined to create a very soft rental market and low rental occupancy rates throughout the valley,” Hermes wrote.
Blankenship said the vacancies cannot be attributed to reduced staffing. The bus agency hired the same number of people as usual and topped out at 260 workers for the winter. The difference this season, he said, is more people from within the Roaring Fork Valley sought jobs. During the chronic labor shortages of the last decade, RFTA recruited workers from Puerto Rico as well as summer bus tour drivers in Alaska.
If the market stays soft beyond this winter, RFTA will consider incentives to fill its housing, but that is a slippery slope, Blankenship said. Reducing rents or offering favorable lease terms for one-year leases with new tenants raises legitimate questions of fairness among existing tenants, he said.
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The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority learned on Tuesday that it received an $11.5 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration. That will help pay for the expansion and renovation of a bus maintenance facility in Glenwood Springs.