Aspen man’s false tax returns lead to Housing Authority ban
May 4, 2017
Come June 1, Aspen resident Willie Wilson will be on his own, no longer part of Aspen's affordable-housing program.
His living options could include camping or sleeping on an empty park bench, under a bridge, or near the Rubey Park Transit Center downtown, the 60-year-old said Wednesday.
Wilson said he realizes what he did was wrong, which was run afoul of Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority guidelines by providing it phony federal tax returns to show he qualified to reside at Truscott Place, an employee-housing complex where he has lived since 1999.
Even so, he made his case before the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority's board of directors Wednesday. But in a unanimous vote, the eight-member board upheld APCHA Executive Director Mike Kosdrosky's recommendation that it blacklist Wilson from living in employee housing.
"I'm sorry for the trouble I caused the staff," Wilson told the board. "I'm sorry I have to take the board's time with something like this."
Board members acknowledged Wilson had fallen on hard times. He has suffered from chronic back pains, limiting his ability to work the required 1,500 hours a year to qualify for worker housing.
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He appeared at the hearing on crutches, his hip broken from a fall he took skiing Aspen Mountain about three weeks ago.
But there was no escaping that he gave APCHA tax returns from 2014, 2015 and 2016 that weren't filed with the IRS until March — and only after APCHA qualifications specialist Julie Kieffer became suspicious about the return he provided her Jan. 31. In that return, which Wilson provided to APCHA to requalify for his Truscott unit, Kieffer said the staff "noticed discrepancies" and "inconsistencies." APCHA staff contacted the IRS seeking Wilson's returns for 2014 and 2015. The IRS said Wilson did not file returns for those years, Kieffer said.
That prompted APCHA to not renew Wilson's lease at Truscott, ordering him to leave May 31. Wilson could not appeal that decision to the APCHA board, but he could appeal the housing staff's decision to make him ineligible to live in affordable housing in the future.
Wilson argued that the tax returns he provided APCHA more or less reflected the tax returns he ultimately mailed to the IRS on March 13, which showed earnings of $15,673 in 2016, $11,065 in 2015, and $13,873 in 2014. He said he didn't file the returns when they were due because he couldn't afford his tax bills. His jobs included doing janitorial and security work but still didn't amount to the minimum amount of hours required to work in Pitkin County. Wilson also projected he would end up working 1,135 hours this year for El Jebel cleaning service Magic Shine and other odd jobs, 365 hours short of the required minimum.
Add it all up, and Kosdrosky said the Housing Authority could not justify keeping Wilson in its system.
"He failed to meet the most basic and fundamental requirement of the program, … full-time employment," Kosdrosky told the board, noting that Wilson "also provided information that was false to obtain a fair advantage and benefit."
APCHA has gotten increased attention in recent months for its perceived lack of enforcement, whether it's true. Cutting Wilson a break would "send the worst possible message" at a time when questions are being raised about APCHA's ability to enforce its rules, Kosdrosky said.
Wilson was not without support.
The Rev. Nicholas Vesey of Aspen Chapel, of which Wilson is a member, told the board Wilson is "fundamentally an honest man."
"I really ask for your support to ask him to remain where he is," Vesey said.
Ward Hauenstein, who is in the June 6 runoff for City Council but was speaking as a congregation member, added it would be "hard-hearted and draconian to blacklist Will from the program."
Hauenstein said Wilson should face some type of punishment, but not banishment for life from affordable housing in Pitkin County.
"I would ask for kindness in your collective heart to find some appropriate punishment for Willie and see if he will be a full-time employee in the future," he said.
The pleas, however, fell short.
"While I am sympathetic to Mr. Wilson's case, it's very difficult for us because people are always going through difficult situations," board member Patricia Weber said. "Everybody struggles to be in compliance and tries to comply with the guidelines. We have to be fair to everybody."