Skico looks downvalley for employee housing
What is expected to again be a tight housing market for this winter’s influx of ski season workers has the Aspen Skiing Co. looking down the valley for worker digs.With some 300 beds of its own to offer to a work force that expands by about 2,000 people in the wintertime, the Skico is already out of housing for new arrivals, according to spokesman Jeff Hanle.”Our housing is all spoken for. We are full and exploring other options,” he said. That search includes assessing what’s available beyond Aspen and Snowmass. The company is looking at what’s available as far down the valley as Basalt and El Jebel – communities that a segment of the resort’s year-round employee base already calls home.The housing crunch came to a head last winter when a group of young, foreign workers crowded into the Aspen City Council’s chambers to bemoan a lack of housing that had many of them sleeping on friend’s floors while they searched for other affordable accommodations. There’s no reason to believe this winter will be any different. The managers of both of the city’s seasonal housing complexes expect their units to fill up quickly. Foreigners who wait until their work visas are issued in November will be out of luck at Marolt Ranch, predicts manager John Mickles. Mickles began taking applications for Marolt’s 94 units on Aug. 28, with leases available starting Sept. 1. In a week, 18 were taken by workers willing to shell out $2,919 (their first and last month’s rent, plus a security deposit) and commit to renting an apartment they may not use until late November or early December.”It’s tough for them – they don’t know if they get their visas yet,” Mickles said. “It’s up to them, if they want to take a chance.”It’s not the only hurdle foreign workers will face when they arrive this year. A new Colorado immigration law requires the workers to acquire a Colorado ID (a driver’s license will do), in order to receive benefits, like public housing.Mickles said he’s directing foreign workers who lease a Marolt unit to stop in Denver or Glenwood Springs on their way to town and obtain a driver’s license.”They’ll have to jump through this hoop,” he said. “They have to prove lawful presence.”The added wrinkle may slow the pace with which public housing fills up, but not by much, said Mickles, predicting Marolt will be full, or nearly so, by Nov. 1.Of the 92 units at Burlingame Housing Inc., the city’s other seasonal housing project, more than half are already leased, said manager Mary Ferguson. Many of the renters are local workers who are already here.”Things are going very quickly,” she said. “I don’t think I’m going to have anything left by the end of the month, if even then. I have people who are sending out checks like crazy.”The Marolt units accommodate two or three occupants and the Burlingame apartments each sleep two, but there were anecdotal reports of far more occupants in some Burlingame units last winter, especially as the season got under way.Those interested in leasing apartments at either complex will find information at http://www.aspenhousing office.com. In addition, the housing office website offers a link where those with rooms or homes to rent may post information on the rental unit (including a photo) free of charge. Those looking for housing may post a free want ad (with a photo), as well.The online effort to match housing with workers came about last winter as the housing crunch intensfied. In addition, the housing office put out a plea to locals who had empty rooms to rent to make them available.The Skico came up with some additional housing last winter by arranging to use the Holland House, a vacant ski lodge near the base of Aspen Mountain. “We are very interested in the Holland House again. We don’t have it as of yet, but we are interested in it,” Hanle said.Another Skico housing option, though, will remain unavailable. Despite the anticipated shortage of worker accommodations, the company’s Holiday House housing in Aspen will remain vacant this winter, as it did last season, according to Hanle.”We can’t use it as it is right now,” he said.Last year, the company proposed razing the aging buildings with hopes of having a new project built in time for use this winter, but it withdrew the plan in the face of neighborhood opposition. The Skico had originally proposed increasing the number of beds at the Holiday House from 64 to 84, but cut back the plan to 74 beds during the city’s review of the application, before it was scrapped.For workers who haven’t firmed up their housing arrangements by the time the snow flies, Hanle offered a bit of advice:”Come up, find a couch, start looking,” he said. “If all else fails, show up. Good things happen to those who wait.”Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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