| AspenTimes.com

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.”

mvincent@aspentimes.com

Adapting day by day: Snowmass works to keep up with evolving COVID-19 outbreak

There’s been a lot of change in Snowmass Village over the past five days.

On March 14, the town was bustling with locals and visitors recreating on the mountain and spending time throughout the village.

By March 16, the town felt as if it was in the middle of the offseason, with no lifts spinning, fewer people on the snow and not many businesses open.

But this wasn’t a result of the offseason. This was the fallout of several incrementally impactful state and county orders that mandated social distancing, closed down the state’s ski areas for one week, and shut down dine-in restaurants, bars, gyms, theaters and casinos to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.

“Everyone is working hard to support one another during this difficult time,” said Mayor Markey Butler on March 16 of the county and local response to COVID-19. “There are people who have stepped up to do grocery shopping and pick up medications for those who are vulnerable and I think that speaks very, very highly to the spirit of Snowmass Village.”

At a Town Council meeting March 16, the main agenda item was to declare a local disaster emergency in Snowmass Village, which would allow the town to seek external financial aid if needed as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to develop and evolve.

As councilmembers sat roughly 6 feet a part, Town Manager Clint Kinney explained the resolution, which notes the town hasn’t incurred any direct expenses as a result of COVID-19 as of March 16, and updated council on how the town was working alongside the county to mitigate virus spread.

Kinney said Snowmass Village is implementing all Pitkin County Public Health decisions and following the lead of the incident management team in place, which the town is a part of and working with to push out accurate information to all valley locals.

“We’re doing our best to make sure good, accurate information goes out and to answer questions when they arise,” Kinney said. “As a town staff, we’re trying to be cautious and calm.”

In Snowmass specifically, several closures and cancellations were made to limit the novel coronavirus spread, including the closure of the town’s recreation center, Snowmass Club and Snowmass Cross Country Center, The Collective as well as most of Base Village, Viceroy Snowmass and all dine-in only restaurants and bars per state public health order.

The town’s Village Shuttle schedule also was amended as of March 17 afternoon, but town buses are still running and available for on-call transportation.

According to Rose Abello, director of Snowmass Tourism, her staff was working on checking in with all village lodging, restaurants and businesses to see if they’re open and what services they may be offering March 16.

The tourism department has “pivoted” from working to get people to visit for the end of the ski season in April to almost solely focusing on its summer event planning and marketing, and will continue to adapt its operations with the state of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“From what we can tell the community and our stakeholders are in a sort of decision making mode right now,” Abello said, emphasizing how quickly the outbreak response evolves each day.

“As a team, our biggest focuses right now are how to take care of our employees and businesses and how to take care of our guests who are still here.”

At the Westin Snowmass Resort and Wildwood Snowmass Hotel, complex manager Jeffery Burrell said both hotels have gone from nearly full occupancy to just a handful of guests in a matter of days, and that he’s had to lay off a large chunk of his staff as a result of the COVID-19 spread nationwide.

Despite these setbacks, Burrell said morale seems pretty good at both hotels considering everything. He also said his staff will continue to seek guidance from the complex owners on if they need to close completely before the end of their winter season on April 19.

“Yes, this has been dramatically impactful but we know people will yearn to come back to the mountains when this passes,” Burrell said. “People seem to be in a state of shock because no one has ever seen or experienced anything like this, but we are banding together and are very much like a big family anyway.”

Burrell’s sentiments were echoed by a handful of other business managers, restaurant owners and town officials this week as Snowmass continues to navigate a path forward that protects public health and provides access to the vital services people need.

Trevor Moodie, store director at Clark’s Market on the Village Mall, said he does not anticipate changing the store’s available services much unless he has to, as he understands the market offers a vital need to the community.

“We’re doing everything we can to ensure the store is a safe place to still come and shop,” Moodie said. “I’m so, so happy with our employees and the job they’re doing and don’t see much more change going forward.”

Moodie said the Snowmass Clark’s is still getting deliveries in, expanding the warehouses it orders from to ensure it can bring in most all the grocery items locals may need, and is closing its doors at 8 p.m. so employees can spend the last two hours of the night deep-cleaning the store.

Places like Sundance Liquor and Gifts are implementing similar strategies, striving to keep their businesses as hygienic as possible.

On a big picture level, while town officials said they can’t predict the future, staff members like Kinney and Marianne Rakowski, town finance director, feel Snowmass Village is in a strong state economically to handle the negative impacts of less visitors and less local services.

Kinney said that with credit to the current council, the town’s doubled its designated reserves over the past four years and more than doubled its undesignated reserves, putting the village in good shape if less visitors come to Snowmass or if a recession hits the U.S. due to the spread of the virus.

Over 2019 specifically, the town had a really good year tax revenue wise, Rakowski said, specifically with lodging tax revenue jumping up almost 17% from the year prior.

Rakowski also said the marketing, lodging and general funds all have reserves that are 30% of each fund’s revenue, giving the town some cushion.

“We have a great start going into whatever this year is going to bring because of the coronavirus and what’s happening with the world economy,” Rakowski said. “So I feel like we’re in a really good position right now.”

Overall, many town leaders and stakeholders expressed confidence in Snowmass Village’s resiliency and a dedication to ensuring all residents who need help now and as the COVID-19 outbreak evolves receive it.

mvincent@aspentimes.com