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Worker housing is hot real estate

Janet Urquhart

Aspen’s multibillion-dollar real estate market may get all the headlines, but the really hot properties are the cheap ones.

The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority closed the books on a banner year last Wednesday, conducting its final two lotteries of 2000.

In all, the housing office conducted lotteries for 103 affordable housing units last year, attracting a total of just over 6,000 bids in all.

The sales of 29 of the units, however, will not be final until sometime in 2001, so they will be tallied with this year’s totals. Those units will fetch a total of $4.1 million at closing, putting the housing office on track for another busy year.

In 2000, 74 units were sold for $11 million, up from 46 units sold in 1999 for about $6 million, according to housing office records.

More telling, perhaps, is the number of bids last year’s lotteries garnered, compared to 1999’s totals. Last year’s 74 units produced slightly more than 4,900 bids, while the 46 homes sold in 1999 garnered 1,377 bids.

Though more housing for local workers is coming on line each year (just 32 lotteries were conducted in 1998), the demand is not only remaining steady, it appears to be escalating.

“You know, it’s going to take quite a few units before we get this backlog to stop, I think,” said Cindy Christensen, housing office manager. “I see this problem existing for the next five years at least.”

Last year’s 4,900-plus bids does not, however, reflect that many individuals seeking homes, Christensen noted. Many people submit bids on a number of units during a typical year, trying repeatedly to win the chance to own a home.

At Five Trees, for example, each of four three-bedroom, two-bathroom homes priced at $158,300 attracted 73 bids. Those bids likely represent the same 73 people bidding on each one of the four units. Five Trees is the affordable housing that is part of the new Moore subdivision near the Aspen schools campus.

The housing office has not tracked how many individuals are participating in the housing lotteries, Christensen said. To qualify as a bidder, an individual must first live and work in Pitkin County for four years.

The Housing Authority’s 2000 totals include the record-setting lotteries held for the Snyder Park affordable housing complex.

The 15-unit city project was sold early last year in what was likely the most anticipated housing lottery in some time. Three one-bedroom, one-bathroom units priced at $120,800 each attracted 292 bidders.

In all, the project attracted 2,151 bids, though again, many individuals bid on several units within the east-side project. The first-time sales of the units totaled $2.39 million.

A number of factors influence how many bids any particular unit is likely to attract, according to Christensen. Brand-new units generally attract double the number of individuals that might bid on an older unit that has been through several owners, she said.

Price and whether a project allows pets also come into consideration, Christensen added.

All other factors aside though, the units that continue to generate the most interest are the ones built for single owners – people who have been living with roommates and who are anxious to shed communal life, according to Christensen.

Studios and one-bedroom units, which also tend to be the least expensive homes, are the hottest properties in the Housing Authority’s inventory.

Lotteries for the new Pitkin Iron project near Woody Creek, held in November, produced 99 bids for the only one-bedroom unit in the project that was open to the general public. It sold for $125,900. Each of five two-bedroom units in the project, priced at $216,800, attracted 62 bids.

But that’s not to say demand for the two- and three-bedroom units geared toward families isn’t growing, too.

Take the three-bedroom Park Avenue townhome that was up for a lottery sale last week. The $236,681 unit attracted 24 bids. When the unit was last sold, three or four years ago, there were six bidders, Christensen recalled.

“That’s telling you something,” she said.


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