The affordable housing program overseen by Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority, a joint venture between the City of Aspen and Pitkin County has the stated mission:
Purpose— “To assure the existence of a supply of desirable and affordable housing for persons currently employed in Pitkin County, persons who were employed in Pitkin County prior to retirement, the handicapped, and other qualified persons of Pitkin County . . .”
—Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority Guidelines - (Originally Adopted 1983)
The APCHA was established for the purpose of effecting the planning, financing, acquisition, construction, reconstruction or repair, maintenance, management and operation of housing projects pursuant to a multi-jurisdictional plan to provide residential facilities and dwelling accommodations at rental or sale prices within the means of persons of low, moderate and middle income who are permanent residents and persons employed in the City and County
—APCHA Guidelines-Creation Document January 2013
Are we meeting the criteria that our housing program has set for itself?
The Housing program has been a great boon to preserving Aspen as a viable community and not a ghost town of empty second homes and lift ops and maids crammed into expensive sub-par rental housing. Housing Director McCabe rightfully describes affordable housing as “a community asset.” The housing lottery winners have chosen to put down roots and have families in a truly amazing place. The current un-official policy of “you bought it, you own it, you fix it” will destroy this program. Affordable housing owners, even those who have appropriately funded their Capital Reserves, by definition, do not have the resources to reconstruct shoddy buildings at free market rates. Wages in Aspen have not risen with cost of living increases.
Centennial Homeowners Association (HOA) has repeatedly requested that our housing program policies be reviewed and a program of sustainability be enacted to address dire issues separating deliberate neglect and maintenance issues from design, materials and structural problems. Govt. staff and officials have stated that if any support is given to current housing stock then no HOA will ever fix anything and there will be no capital reserve funding by owners. Certainly, neglectful actions by HOAs can be policed and discouraged. We are suggesting that APCHA and local govt. adopt a policy to keep affordable housing affordable. The manner in which current policy works is that housing units are built, often as cheaply as possible, or purchased and allocated to the housing program. If those units are improperly built or have structural issues, maybe not immediately known, who ever owns that property at the time will take on the full responsibility of fixing it at whatever price the market demands. There are no subsidies for repairs just the initial construction and purchase (except for Centennial…unsubsidized). APCHA rules disincentivize affordable housing owners from making major repairs or doing extensive maintenance to their buildings. Capital Improvements are capped at 10% and limited to things like bigger kitchen cabinets. Any investment to repair or improve the buildings structure, its durability, its health or safety is disallowed. The units are worth the same leaking and mold-infested as they are water tight and structurally sound. Equity and resale values do not change no matter how much money is spent on repairs.
Currently APCHA qualifies interested applicants by their income and assets and job status in Pitkin County. Working people who are interested in putting down roots in or around Aspen have few options and little control when they are ready to purchase an affordable housing unit; it’s pure chance. When a current affordable housing unit owner wishes to sell their unit, they don’t go through the process a normal homeowner would. Instead, APCHA notifies the community, qualifies buyers, holds a lottery and gives the winner first right of refusal to purchase the unit at the resale value they have set and dictated by the appreciation cap. APCHA acts as the buyer and seller of every unit; buying back from the current owner and selling to the applicant they selected. They receive a 2% commission plus other fees for every transaction. In theory, if a unit does not meet a minimum standard, has leaks for example, the seller is not supposed to receive full re-sale value. We know of no case at Centennial in which that has occurred even though there have been numerous reported leaks and water damage. APCHA takes no action to verify or improve the condition of a unit prior to a sale. Until July 2014, APCHA has never properly disclosed the poor condition of the Centennial buildings to their buyers, the legally-mandated seller’s disclosure, regardless of continuous problems for nearly its entire existence.
Please take the time to look at the next pages in this section. They provide some insight into how housing funds are spent. This program may be the victim of its own success. There is much that can be done to improve it. Centennial HOA wishes to see it succeed long into the future. A little accountability is not a bad thing.