As Tom McCabe, APCHA director has stated, “Affordable housing is a community asset.” And Centennial certainly qualifies. Most of the 92 units have had previous owners and most will have new owners in the future if we choose to preserve it for the community. Centennial is 92 prominently placed, well-located affordable housing units value-engineered and poorly built, energy-inefficient, leaking, water-damaged, and mold-infested. The current owners, who had nothing to do with the construction, have been given full responsibility for causing and now repairing the inherent problems regardless of their ongoing attempts to mitigate problems. $35,000 per owner in expense must be added to the cost of each unit to maintain basic standards of habitability, durability, and safety with no way to add costs to the value of the units or pass costs along to future owners who would benefit directly from the reconstruction. Upon exploring solutions, there is no way for the current owners to realistically finance the project. Regardless, any increase in dues from their current lofty amounts would render the already questionable obligations, unaffordable thus negating the APCHA’s goals of providing “desirable and affordable housing.” Owners of these units have been selected though a lottery process entered into an agreement with APCHA in good faith to live under the many rules of the deed restriction which give a slight advantage over the rental market and nullify nearly every incentive to reinvest in ones biggest investment, their home. Given the choice most owners would prefer to keep their homes and raise the quality of their buildings to the level of current building standards. If the owners of these condos could afford to spend $35,000 a piece just to maintain a basic standard of habitability with no increase in equity or resale value, they likely would not meet APCHA’s financial restrictions to qualify for affordable housing.
Without any assistance from the organizations that created, oversee, regulate, control transactions of, and receive revenue from the development, homes will continue to deteriorate. Many owners will be forced to sell because they can no longer afford the expense to keep their units intact. Others, who choose to stay or have no option but to remain, will bear the severe financial burden. Since 2009, the number of bids placed on available Centennial units has dropped from 50 to 90 interested applicants per unit to single digits. These units will likely find fewer interested buyers as they continue to deteriorate and will become unsellable.
In the past, when presented with the notion that some portion of the housing program be dedicated to sustaining current inventory, govt. staff and officials were mostly appalled by the idea. In asking for assistance, the homeowners have been portrayed as self-entitled slackers trying to get government to clean up their mess. In reality, they are only pursuing the limited options they have available and looking for cooperation from the other entities that should have a stake in Centennial’s success or failure. During the recent City Council and Mayoral election, the idea of sustaining the current housing stock was floated by a majority of candidates. Hopefully, these weren’t empty promises. Mean while City and County housing funds are flush and spent on over-valued land and poured into projects with millions of dollars in cost overruns. We live in a town with 100+ year-old buildings with the expectation that anything recently built can’t last for more than 25.
The HOA has been publicly chastised for not attending to water intrusion issues in its early years, deferring maintenance and underfunding capital reserves; accusations that records prove to be false. We are told that, at a minimum, the working class owners of Centennial should have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars reconstructing the poor design elements of employee housing buildings in their first decade. Yet when govt. staff and officials are presented with recent reports indicating millions of dollars in repairs are needed, they’re recommendation is to ignore those reports and spend a few hundred thousand instead. Centennial’s developer Sam Brown claims that his buildings were designed and built to a very high standard and that capital reserves should have been funded at an inflated rate in order to mitigate the buildings problems. Both these things cannot be true. It is likely that if more care and expense had been placed in the original construction and the initial sales prices were raised slightly, the current owners would not be staring at a multi-million dollar repair project. The developer’s limited budget, his need to turn a profit and the lack of involvement from APCHA in oversight and financial subsidies put us on this path. It is doubtful that the intent of APCHA’s founders was to offer Aspen’s employees an option for settling in the town they adore in exchange for acceptance of the numerous limitations of the deed restriction and a giant ticking time bomb in the form of poorly designed and built structures needing unbearably expensive repairs.
The current owners of Centennial have stood by their homes mostly because it is a wonderful property with amazing views and easy access to the attractions that brought them to Aspen in the first place. They do not contribute to the long line of standing traffic in the mornings and afternoons that has become Aspen’s small mountain town rush hour. And will only get worse as employee housing is built outside of town. They also have very few options for buying or renting comparable housing without leaving the upper valley, the whole reason the affordable housing program was created in the first place.