Will evictions create affordable housing? | VailDaily.com
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Will evictions create affordable housing?

Scott Condon
Vail, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Part of the Aspen Skiing Co.’s plan to ease its affordable-housing crisis could displace more than 100 residents from an El Jebel apartment complex.

Tenants of the 64-unit Sopris View Apartments learned late last week that they will have at least one year from the closing date to find alternative housing, said Jim Laing, Aspen Skiing Co.’s vice president of human resources.

Closing is anticipated in 60 to 90 days.

Tenants will be asked to move only when there is demand among the company’s long-term, full-time employees, he said.

The demand won’t come all at once, Laing said, so some tenants could have their leases renewed after one year.

But news of the probable sale and potential displacement has rattled current tenants of the apartment complex, even if they are secure for one year.

“Jim Laing hasn’t looked for a place to live for a while,” said Bill Van Alstyne, who has lived at Sopris View for seven months.

He said it is extremely difficult to find affordable housing to rent in the Roaring Fork Valley, particularly with the attributes of Sopris View. All 64 apartments are two-bedroom, two-bath. They are close to bus stops.

Van Alstyne pays $1,250 per month, which partially covers utilities. His daughter has her own room on the weeks she stays with him.

One year might sound like a long time to find alternative housing, but it’s really not, said Van Alstyne, a 27-year resident of the area.

“If it’s not that hard, why is the Skico down here?” he asked.

The ski company purchased the Thunder River Lodge in Carbondale last year and converted the low-end tourist accommodation into affordable housing. It is renovating the 23 units with kitchenettes this winter.

The company also has projects planned in Aspen and Snowmass Village. It renovated the old Holiday House ski lodge, which provides 50 beds. It also hopes to secure approval for Club Commons II in Snowmass Village, which will provide around 125 beds.

Building affordable housing is a priority for the company, Laing said.

Eagle County Commissioner Peter Runyon said he would prefer to see the ski company use its “considerable economic clout” to develop new housing.

The purchase of an apartment complex does little to address the bigger problems with affordable housing, he said.

“They’re shuffling the chairs on the Titanic,” Runyon said.

Sopris View Apartments are in unincorporated Eagle County, about a mile from the Basalt town limit. Basalt Mayor Leroy Duroux said the company’s purchase of the apartment complex will exacerbate the midvalley housing crisis if tenants are displaced.

“I guess the ski company is trying to solve their problem, but it’s not to the benefit of the entire community,” Duroux said.

Basalt Councilman Chris Seldin took a different view of the proposed purchase.

“I’m really reluctant to fault the Skico when they’re doing something,” Seldin said.

He said escalating rents and conversion of housing to second homes are the biggest challenges.

Sopris View resident Borfilo Reblla said he recently moved in and was nervous about looking for a new place. He said he looks forward to talking to the management to discuss what exactly the sale will mean to him and his family.

“It’s bad,” was his early assessment.

Van Alstyne said the pending sale “is the talk of the complex” and that all neighbors he has talked to share his opinion that they’re getting the shaft. Van Alstyne said he wants to know why the ski company can sink millions of dollars into Base Village in Snowmass but cannot provide an adequate amount of housing without displacing midvalley residents.

“They’re just not making friends in the valley, I can tell you that,” he said.

A top Aspen Skiing Co. official said Thursday that an El Jebel apartment complex would disappear as affordable housing if the company weren’t acquiring it.

Company attorney Dave Bellack said critics of the pending purchase aren’t factoring in what market forces would do if the the 62-unit complex remained on the market.

“Apartment buildings get converted to condominium buildings almost inevitably,” Bellack said.

He believes it was just a matter of time before “some astute investors” bought the Sopris View Apartments, turned them into condos and sold them for prices outside workers’ budgets.

Some midvalley elected officials, activists and residents of Sopris View criticized the Skico’s purchase for displacing people from affordable housing. Rents there are hovering around $1,250 per month ” about as good as it gets in the upper valley and midvalley.

Recent deals in Basalt and the midvalley attest that investors are eyeing existing property for conversion into moneymaking developments. Aspen investors purchased the Green Drake Inn, an affordable hotel in downtown Basalt, for $4.4 million in January. That was nearly $2.9 million more than its selling price in June 2003.

Next door to the Sopris View Apartments, the former Fitzsimmons gas station and car wash sold for $4,245,000. The buyer is working on an application for free-market and affordable housing with commercial space.

Les Gray, a Basalt-based property appraiser, agreed with Bellack that the Sopris View Apartments were a prime candidate for conversion to condos: “Absolutely, that was going to happen sooner or later,” he said.

Gray said property values are appreciating so rapidly that nearly every free-market, affordable unit in the midvalley has already been converted.

“Every single unit that’s not tied down, so to speak, will be unaffordable,” Gray said. “If it’s not already unaffordable, it will be next week.”

Converting Sopris View to condos would make sense for virtually every buyer except a large employer, like the ski company, the school district or the hospitals, Gray said.

Midvalley condominiums similar to what Sopris View might have been are going for about $450,000 right now, Gray said.

“If you could make more money renting, there would be more apartment complexes,” he said.


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