Winning the Housing Lottery
Shane and Nikki Allen were driving back from Burning Man in 2017 when they found out that they’d won the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority’s housing lottery on a 1970’s era Chula Vista trailer in Woody Creek.
Were they up for a Woody Creek Trailer makeover? The couple was familiar with the neighborhood. As a Pitkin County fire fighter, Shane qualified for a rental apartment above the nearby Woody Creek fire station overlooking the trailer park, so they’d spent a lot of time gazing out over the 58 unit neighborhood packed onto two narrow tree lined streets that APCHA brokers through a lottery system and keeps affordable through deed-restrictions. Neither knew exactly which trailer they had won in the blind lottery. All they knew was that three other couples had seen it and passed. The housing authority gives three days to commit, and by the time they got back to the Valley, they had less than 24 hours to make a decision.
“It had been vacant for a while, though not as long as it appeared. We found holes in the roof, ceiling and floor. Mold on the drywall. Heavy ‘modification’ over the years, But here was our chance to own a piece of the Valley,” Shane explained.
Starting from Scrape and Scratch
Nikki started first thing the next morning calling friends for recommendations and someone suggested reaching out to Brian and Erica Golden. “We needed to know if we could afford to scrape the trailer. Because there was no way we could live in it.”
The Goldens gave them a from-the-hip idea of what it would take. They went for it.
When the Phillips Trailer park was privately owned, renters paid to place their mobile homes on the lots. When Pitkin County took over, they subdivided the property to create deed-restricted land for sale. Ownership is beginning to inspire creative architectural answers to the allowed building envelopes, with one new home down the row and another in planning phases.
“We provided a cost analysis between a custom home and new pre-fab so Shane and Nikki could see what is possible,” Brian Golden explained. “We are decidedly not anti-pre-fab. There are some incredible options out there. The manufacturing process offers some efficiencies that are far more environmentally sustainable than custom stick-frame construction. But in this case, considering the site constraints, and the county’s height and FAR restrictions, we found that we could design a split-level that almost doubles their square footage for close to the same cost of going with a smaller manufactured home.”
The Goldens created a floor plan that gives the couple flexibility as their needs change. You walk into a mudroom with plenty of space for winter coats, ski gear and supplies for their two dogs. Go up a half-flight of stairs to a sun-filled kitchen with open storage, tons of countertop, a deep farmhouse sink and island seating. A bump out creates an open floor plan and a large sitting area with a television and fireplace. Step out to a deck with a grill and rocking chairs.
The master bedroom and bath are in the back. Picture Moroccan-style tiles that Nikki laid herself and a headboard Shane built from the only salvageable part of the original structure – a weathered pine fence, which he also used for building a barn-track slider door separating their bedroom from their walk-through closet. Downstairs, you find a den with a built-in bar and room to display Shane’s collection of 15 guitars, plus a laundry room, second bedroom and bath. The den can be converted into a third bedroom if needed. Even though the footprint is that of a single-wide trailer, the spaces inside live large.
From Dream to Reality
The couple was pre-approved for a loan to cover the initial deed-restricted land purchase plus new construction. However, they faced a gauntlet of hurdles because mortgages on trailers are tricky at best. And in this situation, the title on the trailer had been purged, and its condition caused the appraiser to be unable to recognize it as an existing structure. The Allens went under contract using a line of credit, then got to work securing the final loan. Seven months later, they’d scraped the trailer and started excavation when their national lender indefinitely delayed the closing.
“My head was ready to explode when I told the story to a friend at Alpine Bank,” Shane talks about it with an air of post-trauma. “‘We can do this,’ came a quick reply. Within two weeks, we signed our mortgage papers. The only delay in the process came because the Alpine Bank loan officer predicted accurately that interest rates would drop in a few days. And he wanted to get us the best rate possible.”
They moved fifteen months after winning the housing lottery, and are still working on completing their vision, finishing fencing, building flower beds, laying sod. The best part? Their neighbors. A mother and daughter from down the street dropped by to introduce their puppy to Nikki and Shane’s dogs, Raven and Rio.
“These dogs will grow up together,” Nikki says. “You can’t put a dollar amount on what it means to call a place home and know it’s for the long haul.”
Believe it or not, the kitchen in the Allen’s home is the width of a single-wide trailer. A cantilevered bump-out adjacent to this space provides room for a sitting area with fireplace and TV.