Luck of the draw: The process behind the Snowmass housing lottery
A rainstick-like sound echoed out from the Snowmass Housing Office porch March 23 as director Betsy Crum flipped a gold-colored raffle drum from right to left, right to left.
“And the magic begins! Good luck to you all!” said Terri Everest, assistant housing director, as Crum started.
Several village residents watched intently from the parking lot as the little film canisters housing green tickets penned with their names cascaded from one side of the drum to the other. All were hoping to be chosen as the next deed-restricted owner of a 3-bedroom home in the Sinclair Meadows neighborhood.
After a few minutes of mixing, housing maintenance mechanic Matt Dutcher selected a canister from the raffle drum and declared Kyle Sauder, Abbey Dougherty and Sauder’s two children Cody and Eleonore the winners.
All four smiled, cheered and hugged.
“It feels relieving to get in,” Sauder, general manager of store implementation for Four Mountain Sports in Snowmass, said of winning the town lottery for the Sinclair Meadows home. The 17-year valley resident has been in at least five Snowmass lotteries for a deed-restricted home over the years and this was his first win.
“It’s been a challenge for sure but this is the first one we’ve gone for in over a year and we’re stoked to have won.”
MORE THAN LUCK
While housing lotteries don’t take place very often in Snowmass Village, both Crum and Everest agreed that they’re exciting when they do.
“There’s a lot of tension before that first name is drawn, but it’s fun when the person who wins is here,” Crum said.
But selecting a person for a Snowmass Village deed-restricted home is much more than just pulling a ticket out of a raffle drum. The process began several weeks prior to March 23 and involves multiple steps and checks before it ever gets to the lottery phase.
The Snowmass Housing Department manages and maintains six rental apartment complexes with 247 units and administers the sale of 176 deed-restricted single family homes, townhomes and condominiums, according to its website.
The department is separate from the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority with its own rules and regulations, giving top priority to full-time Snowmass employees.
For deed-restricted or “permanent moderate housing” sales, Crum and Everest follow a step-by-step process to ensure fairness and consistency when transitioning from one owner to the next.
With the most recent Sinclair Meadows sale, the previous owner downsized to a 2-bedroom home, the last of a series of home shuffling in the same neighborhood.
After the owner paid a $1,000 processing fee to cover the town’s inspection of the home — which is conducted by town chief building official Mark Kittle, who ensures it’s in good condition given its age — and four weeks of advertising in the local papers, the housing office put the available Sinclair Meadows home out to the public and started accepting applications.
The home’s sale price was calculated at $334,063.32, based on the Consumer Price Index. The price does not include the Sinclair Meadows Homeowner’s Association fees, which Crum and Everest said are higher than other village neighborhoods because the HOA is “fairly robust.”
Once the deed-restricted home is advertised, the housing office starts accepting applications, processing each one as they come in to ensure everyone who applies is qualified.
The minimum qualifications include working as a full-time Snowmass employee (1,400 hours over at least eight months of the year) for at least one year; or as a full-time Pitkin County employee for at least three years. Applicants also must fall below the calculated maximum net worth and maximum annual income thresholds for the available property.
However, the housing office has several lottery tiers it uses to give priority to certain qualifying people and additional requirements applicants must meet, which Crum views as three filters: location, occupancy (number of people in your household) and years worked in Snowmass or Pitkin County.
“There are so many little pieces, it can definitely get complicated,” Crum said, noting the bare bones of the process is outlined in the town’s permanent moderate housing regulations.
For example, if someone is considered “in-complex,” or already living in the neighborhood of the available Snowmass home, they get top priority. So if an in-complex person applies for a home and meets all of the other town requirements and regulations, they will get the home so long as another in-complex person does not apply as well. A lottery is not held if this happens, even if there are applicants that fall into lower lottery tiers.
The second tier, which was added to the priority list in November, is someone looking to downsize from one deed-restricted home to another. The third tier, which Crum said “gets the most action,” includes full-time Snowmass Village employees who have worked in the village for at least three years.
With the recent Sinclair Meadows home, the housing office received five applications by the March 19 due date. None fell in the in-complex or downsizing tiers, so the office held the March 23 lottery for the applicants with three or more years of employment time in Snowmass Village.
Crum and Everest said placing people neatly into the different tiers isn’t always black-and-white and sometimes the office is forced to make difficult decisions, but through the whole process they work to treat everyone evenly.
“We try to be really transparent and even-handed,” Crum said. “People may not agree with the rules, they may feel like homes should go to people who have been here the longest, but we try to apply everything very evenly and equally where we can so people feel like they have a chance.”
A CHANGING ROLE
Housing lotteries already aren’t very common events in Snowmass Village, but the March 23 lottery was one unlike any other held before.
Because of the novel coronavirus pandemic and local social distancing requirements, the lottery was held outside and all individuals and families were asked to maintain 6 feet between each other.
But outside of this procedural change due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Crum said the pandemic also is affecting the housing office’s role in the village community.
Instead of just serving as the caretaker and administrator of town housing, the department has shifted to more of a social services role, checking in on its most vulnerable tenants and hosting free community food pick-ups, like the one made possible by Gwyn’s High Alpine last week.
“This is such a fluid situation, we are just trying to keep in contact with our tenants,” Crum said. “My feeling is that people are OK now but as each week goes on they become more and more worried.”
That’s why on the same day of the Sinclair Meadows lottery, Crum said the housing office also sent out a notice to all of its tenants letting them know they will not lose their housing due to the COVID-19 outbreak, as many village employees have been laid off in recent weeks and/or are no longer working full-time.
Crum said at least 50% of the town’s year-round, full-time residents live in town housing, and that her staff is dedicated to working with both town and county governments to ensure everyone in the village has access to food and is guaranteed shelter as the outbreak continues.
“We want people to know that we are willing and ready to work with them to help in any way we can,” Crum said. “I feel like if housing is stable and food is stable then the rest is up to time and we can all get through this together.”
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