Seasonal housing falls into the red
Financial woes at the Burlingame/MAA seasonal housing near Buttermilk have the project’s board of directors brainstorming ways to make the rental units solvent.
The seasonal housing, a joint venture of the city and the Aspen Music Festival and School, required a roughly $40,000 influx from the partnership to shore up its operations last year and is likely to need another one this year, according to Ed Sadler, assistant city manager and president of the Burlingame Housing Inc. board.
“It’s not a killer. It’s not like, oh God, it’s a million dollars in the red, but we know it’s going to continue,” he said. “We’ve got, in good conscience, to recommend some changes.”
The Music Festival, or Music Associates of Aspen, and the city formed BHI as a joint corporation that owns the 101-unit project, which opened in 2000. It primarily provides housing for music students during the summer months and resort workers during the winter season. Some units are designated for Roaring Fork Transportation Authority employees.
“It’s in serious financial trouble,” City Councilman Tim Semrau told fellow council members during a discussion earlier this month. Semrau also sits on the project’s board.
When the complex was built, it was with the expectation that the apartments would be rented out for at least six months during the winter and three during the summer, leaving roughly two to three months – split between spring and fall – when the apartments would sit vacant.
“That was fine, that was time to clean, paint, do maintenance, whatever,” Sadler said.
In its first two years, the complex operated as planned, he said, but for the past two winter seasons, the project hasn’t filled up until December, and some renters are gone at the end of March. Rather than two months of down time, the project is empty for four or five months of the year.
“That’s a big difference in your financials,” Sadler said. “That has cut back seriously on our revenue. You can’t just make up two, three months rent by raising the rents.”
During the winter, the BHI units are full of Aspen Skiing Co. employees, most of whom are foreign workers. For the past two winters, the Skico has pushed back the start date for those workers until they’re needed, according to Sadler, but that means Burlingame doesn’t fill up by mid-October, like it did when it opened.
“I’m not sure I can blame them by any means,” he added, calling the Skico’s approach a prudent business decision.
Last fall, BHI renters were offered incentives to lease a unit from September through April or October through April, but the incentives didn’t work.
Even if they wanted to come to town early, many workers’ visas wouldn’t allow it, Sadler suspects.
He said he’s working on some recommendations to present to the Aspen-Piktin County housing board and the City Council soon, though he declined to reveal the specifics before he provides them to government officials.
There may be some opportunities for short-term, offseason leases – to construction workers, for example, he hinted.
The city’s Marolt seasonal housing has experienced the same vacancy woes as has BHI, but it has been in existence long enough to have a healthier operating reserve fund, according to Sadler.
His recommendations, though, will likely apply to both housing complexes, he said.
Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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