Making a dent in the affordable housing shortage in the valley

Philip Jeffreys, Skico’s project manager on housing issues, highlights the solar panels in the company’s new affordable housing project.
Scott Condon / The Aspen Times

Aspen Skiing Co.’s $ 18.4 million investment in affordable housing is poised to pay off.

Skico’s 43-unit apartment complex in downtown Willits in Basalt has been completed and tenants started moving in over the weekend. About 70% of the units are occupied, but Skico has openings for summer and early fall.

The building, called The Hub at Willits, has five one-bedroom apartments, two with two bedrooms, three with three bedrooms, and 33 with four bedrooms. The total number of rooms is 150.

The main focus of the project is to remain a viable business as the local housing crisis becomes more intimidating, said Philip Jeffreys, Skico’s project manager on housing issues.

“We have gone from bad to worse during the construction of this building,” said Jeffreys, referring to the housing shortage. “I think people are afraid of next winter’s job market.

It is always difficult to find affordable housing in the valley. Now it is almost nonexistent on the open market.

Lumen Residences in Willits – a project not affiliated with Skico – are the latest free market apartments to hit the market. They opened in Willits in March with rates ranging from $ 2,350 to $ 2,425 per month for one-bedroom units and $ 2,900 to $ 3,000 per month for two-bedroom units.

Aspen Skiing Co.’s new affordable housing complex in Willits has been completed despite the challenges of the pandemic.
Scott Condon / The Aspen Times

Skico broke new ground on The Hub just before the pandemic hit in March 2020. The company has stayed the course on major investment even though its ski areas were closed in mid-March and lost significant revenue .

The Skico project includes eight units with limited rent ceilings per deed for licensed child care professionals and 35 units for Skico employees.

Prices for units dedicated to preschool teachers vary from $ 1,050 per month for a one-bedroom unit to $ 1,430 for three-bedroom units. Skico workers will pay $ 550 to $ 800 per room.

“Our goal is to keep housing below 30% of wages,” Jeffreys said.

This summer, the 35 non-dedicated daycare units will be manned by a combination of Skico workers and companies who have arranged for leftovers. The Maroon Creek Club in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Club in Basalt have committed to units until October (contact [email protected] for rental information). In November, Skico will use all of its units.

The 150 rooms in this latest project bring the total number of rooms in Skico to 820. While much of Skico’s accommodation is for seasonal workers, there are also year-round tenants. Growing hardware is helping, Jeffreys said, but the company is still looking for opportunities to add more housing.

He said The Hub offers a multitude of benefits.

“It’s good for the business. It’s good for the community. It’s good for the environment, ”said Jeffreys.

The benefits to the business are obvious. Almost all units have four bedrooms clustered around a central living space. They are furnished with beds, sofas, TVs and dedicated Wi-Fi connections. Some units are suitable for families while the majority of units are more dormitory style. The rooms are approximately 80 square feet in size but are furnished to make the best use of the available space.

The living room of an apartment in the Skico building called The Hub at Willits.
Scott Condon / The Aspen Times

The building has a living room on the ground floor at the south end and a utility room with spacious seating at the north end. Outside the living room is a covered terrace. Outside the laundry room, a park will separate The Hub from the new Steadman Clinic orthopedic care center.

Jeffreys said the project is helping the community by providing housing without generating new jobs. Usually, employee housing is only built as part of a local government requirement to offset a portion of the new jobs generated.

The land acquired by Skico was accompanied by approvals for 8,000 square feet of commercial space. Skico has converted this commercial space into residential. This produced more housing and eliminated the potential creation of jobs in new commercial spaces.

Plus, the high-density housing project will help put the ‘there’ to Willits or, as Jeffreys puts it, it creates a ‘place’. This will add to the critical mass of buyers and customers at Willits restaurants and stores.

“It’s going to be ultra-vibrant,” he said.

The environmental initiatives taken by Skico at The Hub are numerous. Skico installed an 80 kilowatt solar panel system on the roof. The panels are bifacial, which means that they produce energy on both sides. The panels are erected on supports so that they are out of the white roof and can produce energy at their potential even during winter, assuming snow accumulates again in Basalt in future winters. The panels are expected to compensate for around 30% of the power consumed in the all-electric building.

“We expect this (system) to work year round,” Jeffreys said.

Since The Hub is a fully electric building, its carbon footprint will decrease as Holy Cross Energy’s energy portfolio becomes greener. Holy Cross has set a goal of getting 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. As it moves towards this goal, The Hub will reduce its carbon footprint.

“It will only get better,” Jeffreys said.

Skico does not rely solely on the power supply becoming greener to reduce its carbon footprint at the Hub.

Eight cold climate heat pumps will heat all the water for Aspen Skiing Co.’s new affordable housing project.
Scott Condon / The Aspen Times

Eight pieces of equipment the size of large suitcases on the roof are cold climate heat pumps that extract heat from the air and transfer it to heat the water needed by the building, without consuming a lot of energy. The technology has advanced to the point where it works year round, even in the high altitude climate.

Plus, it has separate heating and cooling systems for each unit rather than one gigantic system. The decentralized system is more efficient.

Skico has also installed two electric vehicle charging stations outside the building and there is a bike-sharing station outside the north gate. Whole Foods is a few blocks away while City Market is a short walk to the west. The new performing arts center in Willits is located just next door to the south. The bus stop is two blocks away. Renters who work for Skico will receive a bus pass to encourage them to use public transport rather than driving a personal vehicle.

Auden Schendler, Skico’s senior vice president for sustainability and community engagement, said The Hub is the only fully-electric four-story, multi-unit building in the area, to her knowledge. He calls the building a “key climate solution”.

“If we were to heat it conventionally with gas, it would emit CO2 for its entire life,” said Schendler. “But heated with electric heat pumps, it’s going to get cleaner and cleaner every year as the grid goes towards 100%. By 2030, it will be a net zero building.

He said the technology is new to entrepreneurs, but could be a game-changer as it becomes better known and widely used.

“It’s the greenest building we’ve ever made,” said Schendler.

[email protected]

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