The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have not spared the Telluride region. Health concerns lead the list of stressors, but a close second are financial concerns as many jobs have vanished with the closing of innumerable businesses, particularly in the tourism, hospitality and food service industry sectors. With an eye to assisting and stabilizing the local workforce, Telluride and Mountain Village officials are offering tenants of town-owned properties some relief in the form of rent waivers.
Telluride’s workforce that dwells in Shandoka, The Boarding House, Virginia Placer and the 10 tiny homes in the east end, are being offered an option of waiving either April or May’s rent, or half of each.
“I am relieved to know that community members living in Town owned rental properties will receive this relief during this difficult time,” Telluride’s housing director, Melanie Montoya Wasserman. “They are our workforce. They are us.”
Renters have been notified that they need to choose which option works best for their respective households and let the housing office know as soon as possible. If other arrangements are needed, housing officials need to be notified. Tenants are reminded that the electricity bill still needs to be paid.
At last week’s Telluride Town Council meeting, council members discussed the hit town coffers would take by absorbing a month’s rental income, if all tenants take advantage of the waiver. As of Tuesday, Wasserman said 20 tenants had reached out, saying they were struggling to make rent. The town collects approximately $202,000 each month.
“The town does not make any profit on town-owned rentals,” Wasserman said. “All rent collected basically goes toward bond payments (mortgage payments) or operating and maintenance.”
The loss will be pulled from reserves, she said. April rent is due on the 10th.
With major economic drivers such as June’s Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and the start of summer tourism likely forestalled, the month may not be the cash boost it historically has been. Deferring rent for longer than a single month may not be an option.
“Rent deferral is not something we can do over an extended period of time,” Town Attorney Kevin Geiger told council.
Mayor DeLanie Young explained that in her view, the ability to assist town residents and keeping government services going was a difficult and delicate balance.
“There’s only so much we, as a local government can do,” she said. “We still have to fix streets and run the wastewater treatment plant.”
Renters in town-owned properties in Telluride are asked to email tbrier@telluride-co-gov, or call the housing office at 970-728-3034, if they would like to defer one month’s rent.
Telluride Town Council will be meeting weekly, on Tuesdays until further notice.
Mountain Village Town Council also recognized the sudden economic impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on residents and was proactive in recently announcing that this month’s rent for all Village Court Apartments (VCA) is waived.
Mountain Village Mayor Laila Benitez explained the town wanted to help the residents who found themselves out of work after Telski was closed due to a state order, as well as the following closures of hotels, bars and restaurants. Late charges on all utilities and sales tax owed in February have also been suspended.
“It became apparent to Town Council and staff very quickly that a significant number of our residents at Village Court Apartments were losing their jobs do to the sudden and early closure of the ski resort, hotels and many other sectors of our business community,” she said. “To compound the issue, the process to receive unemployment benefits from the state and COVID-19 relief from the federal government has been experiencing long delays. … The situation has been so sudden and unprecedented, we thought providing some financial breathing room for our residents was the right thing to do.”
Benitez said council will continue monitor the situation and make changes where necessary moving forward.
“Town Council is working closely with VCA management to develop a plan and process to help our residents,” she said. “This situation will have a lasting impact on all our lives and finances. We need a plan to help us manage this for May and beyond.”
With schools across the state remaining closed until at least April 30, the town increased WiFi access at VCA and in the Meadows to help families with students who are completing schoolwork online. Council member Marti Prohaska said after the Wilkinson Public Library closed the need was apparent since some families went to the library for internet access.
“We reached out to Ken Olson (Telluride School District’s director of operations and technology) and they helped us identify families both at VCA and in the Meadows that did not have internet, and our IT director Jim Soukup and his team immediately got to work. Those families had internet within a day or two,” she said.
The town has also partnered with the school to deliver student lunches. The town’s transportation department picks up 30 lunches a day, which volunteers help distribute to VCA and the Meadows, Prohaska said.
“We've delivered more than 200 lunches in the last two weeks,” she added. “Our drivers are also picking up food pantry boxes every week, which we distribute to families in VCA and the Meadows. We deliver about 15 boxes a week.”
To sign up for school lunch or food pantry deliveries, email firstname.lastname@example.org or text 970-708-0531. School lunches are delivered to VCA parking lot outside the maintenance shed Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to noon, and to the Meadows parking lot outside the post office from 12:15-12:45 p.m. Food Pantry deliveries are made to VCA on Thursdays from 3-3:30 p.m. and Meadows from 3:45-4:15 p.m. at the same pickup locations as the school lunches.
For more information or to submit questions or concerns, visit townofmountainvillage.com/coronavirus.
“As a team, Town Council and staff, is working to support our community as much as possible during these challenging times,” Benitez said. “We ask that our community reach out for help when and if they need it. I strongly encourage you to reach out to me, Mountain Village Town Council members or town staff with questions, concerns or potential assistance you may need or can offer.”