Dialing in on deed-restricted housing with Snowmass Housing Director Betsy Crum

Amid busy year in home sales, housing director explains town policies

Mountain View in Snowmass Village on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/Snowmass Sun)

So far, 2021 has been a big year for deed-restricted housing sales in Snowmass Village: The sale of 15 new units in Coffey Place had a trickle-down effect on other deed-restricted units in Snowmass Village as lottery winners move into their new digs and out of other workforce housing.

In the first five months of 2021, the town has administered 20 lottery drawings for two- and three-bedroom deed-restricted units: 15 in Coffey Place, four in the Daly Townhome development and one in Sinclair Meadows ranging in price from $329,000 to $835,000.

The town is accepting applications for another lottery — this time for a one-bedroom in Creekside priced close to $125,800 — through Thursday. Compare that with eight sales in all of 2019 and two sales in all of 2020, and you’ve got quite the turnover in town-managed home stock this year.

Anyone who has applied for a deed-restricted housing lottery in Snowmass Village — or for any of the 259 rental units in the town’s inventory — will likely be familiar with what Housing Director Betsy Crum considers an “extensive” application process.

To qualify for any workforce housing in the town, applicants must work in Snowmass Village or Pitkin County for at least 1,400 hours over the course of at least eight months a year; buyers — but not renters — are also subject to income and net worth limits at the time of purchase.

Evaluating that employment requirement has grown trickier over the past year or so, Crum noted.

“COVID has changed in some ways the way we really think about employment,” Crum said. “It’s caused us to really kind of scrutinize, what is a Snowmass Village business? What is a Snowmass Village employee?”

As work-from-home options expanded amid the pandemic, the housing department started to take a closer look not only at the zip code in which someone works but how that work serves the people in the town.

“We’ve had to get really thoughtful and specific about how we have people demonstrate that they are employees of businesses that benefit the village,” Crum said.

For applicants who do qualify — and successfully win a deed-restricted housing lottery or make it off the waiting list for rentals — how does the town ensure that residents continue to meet those requirements?

Homeowners must self-certify their eligibility every two years, Crum said. If the town receives a report of noncompliance, they’ll follow up.

An affidavit verifies residency status and employment status: the owner must live in the unit at least eight months out of the year, and the 1,400-hour rule still applies unless the owner is at least 62 years of age and has owned the unit for at least 10 years.

Homeowners also can’t own another residential dwelling unit in the Roaring Fork River drainage in Eagle, Pitkin or Garfield counties, nor in the Colorado River drainage from No Name to Rifle. (Commercial properties are OK, as are residences outside those drainage areas, but other homes outside the area will count toward asset limits at the time of application.)

A relatively new provision in the town’s permanent moderate housing regulations allows the housing department to conduct random, spot-check audits on homeowners, Crum said. The policy went into effect in November 2019, but the housing department has yet to implement it. Crum said she decided not to do spot-checks during the height COVID-19 pandemic but plans to begin conducting those audits in the coming year.

Those spot-checks will focus on key requirements such as employment and residency status. Income and asset limits aren’t part of the equation once someone owns a deed-restricted unit, so someone who gets a raise or a bonus doesn’t have to worry about finding a new home because of it.

“We don’t want to limit people’s ability to improve their lives, get raises, get a promotion and have them lose their housing,” Crum said.

Where does the earnest money go?

The 69 Coffey Place applicants who entered the lottery earlier this year may have noticed their $1,000 earnest money check was cashed before the drawing. Those who won applied the funds toward the purchase price; those who didn’t score a home received a check back.

That’s par for the course on any real estate transaction, Crum said. The funds go into an escrow account; the town deposited all checks to ensure they didn’t bounce, and winners applied that earnest money toward the sale.

It’s up to the seller to set and hold that earnest money, and the seller can choose to hold onto that cash if a buyer gets cold feet, Crum said.

“Because we’re the town we probably would have returned to people regardless if the thing fell through or they got cold feet, but it’s a very typical thing in almost any real estate translation — you need an earnest money deposit,” Crum said.

Earnest money — and who keeps it — can vary among different units in the town stock because it’s determined by the seller. Even though the town administers the lotteries for all deed-restricted units, the housing department isn’t always the seller; that would be the homeowner on already-occupied units in Sinclair Meadows or Creekside, for instance.