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Sales slow for worker housing

Janet UrquhartAspen Times Staff Writer

With considerably fewer units available to sell in 2002, the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority closed the books on a slow year compared to 2001’s record volume.The authority sold 63 deed-restricted units to qualified local workers last year for a total price of $10.6 million. That’s down from a whopping 155 sales for $25.4 million in 2001.In 2000, the housing office recorded 74 sales worth $11 million.The drop in 2002 reflects a decline in the number of units coming on the market, according to Cindy Christensen, the authority’s operations manager.”We had four new projects come on line in 2001,” she said.Most notably, 67 new units at Aspen Highlands Village became available in 2001; most were sold to workers through the Housing Authority lottery system.Eleven new units at the city’s Seventh & Main project were also sold for the first time in 2001, as were 11 new homes available to the general public at builder/City Councilman Tim Semrau’s Pitkin Iron development. The last few deed-restricted homes at Five Trees were also sold in 2001.In 2002, only one new project came on line ? Semrau’s Trainors Landing at the base of Shadow Mountain. Three deed-restricted, three-bedroom units, priced at $271,500, each attracted 47 bids.Of the 63 units sold last year, 58 buyers were chosen through a lottery. The rest were reserved for a specific purchaser or employer.Studios and one-bedroom units continue to see the highest demand, in part because couples as well as single individuals can bid on those units.A 506-square-foot studio at Benedict Commons, priced at $90,884, attracted 68 bids; and a one-bedroom condo at Centennial, priced at $114,714, attracted 86 bids, as did a one-bedroom Red House Enclave unit priced at $132,323. A 455-square-foot Centennial studio sold for $74,494; there were 73 bids for the unit.Two- and three-bedroom units tend to attract fewer bids.There were 38 bids for each of several two-bedroom, two-bath units at Centennial, for example. Two two-bedroom, one-bath Hunter Creek units attracted just 11 bids each, though the condos were less expensive than the Centennial units.The extra bathroom at Centennial can make the difference. So can the no-pets rule at Hunter Creek, Christensen said. “That’s big for a lot of people,” she said.Although the Housing Authority never lacks bidders for a unit ? and hasn’t sold a unit for less than its maximum price since 1993 ? the average number of bids per unit has been dropping recently.Last year, available units attracted an average of about 25 bids; compared to an average of 37 bids per unit in 2001 and about 66 in 2000. In 1999, the housing office saw an average of nearly 30 bids per unit.”I don’t think it necessarily means a decrease in interest,” Christensen said. “Maybe it means we’re getting nearer the point where we need to be. I don’t think we’re anywhere near there, but I think we’re closer.”A variety of factors influence demand for the Housing Authority’s inventory. Price, the age of the unit and the rules on pet ownership are all biggies, she said.When 10 new, one-bedroom units opened in 2001 at Seventh & Main, where dogs are permitted, there were 158 bidders for each of the $125,900 units and 132 bidders for each of the $81,700 units.That kind of interest in a housing project isn’t in the forecast this year, as no significant new developments will be ready for occupancy in 2003.The city has, however, indicated it plans to start construction this spring on 40 one-bedroom units near the Aspen Business Center, on a property dubbed Parcel D. Sales prices of $86,000 and $138,000 are planned. The units should be finished in 2004.”The one-bedrooms that are coming up, I think we’re going to get a lot of people for those,” Christensen said.The City Council has not yet made the call on whether dogs will be allowed at Parcel D.The first 110 units of Aspen’s 330-unit Burlingame Ranch project are not expected to be under construction before 2004 at the earliest. Infrastructure work at the site, north of the Maroon Creek Club and west of Maroon Creek, is tentatively slated to begin this year.Currently, there are more than 1,200 sale units, both publicly and privately built, in the Housing Authority’s inventory.When a new unit is constructed or the owner of an existing one moves on, it is typically put up for sale through a lottery.The housing office doesn’t tally the number of individuals or households participating in its lotteries over the course of a year. The 1,490 total bids recorded in 2002, for example, does not represent 1,490 different buyers, but rather the same individuals and couples entering multiple housing lotteries in hopes of winning one.Deed-restricted units are sold almost exclusively to “priority bidders” ? individuals who have worked full time in Pitkin County for at least four years. Units are priced in different categories, each with income and asset caps. Occupancy rules give preference to households with at least one person per bedroom. For example, a three-bedroom unit would go to a household of at least three people.[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]


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