New laws behind higher housing turnover?
January 3, 2007
Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN Affordable housing rentals are seeing higher turnover than in years past, and housing director Tom McCabe suspects new state laws might be behind the increase.”We’re seeing heavier turnover than we would have expected,” he said. “We don’t know specifically that that’s the reason, that they’re undocumented,” he added. “We try to get some idea of what’s causing the turnover, but if they’re in the housing illegally, they’re not going to tell us.”In August, the state passed a series of laws requiring people to prove legal status in the country before receiving public benefits, a process that involves running names and identification documents through a federal government screening system.Since the laws were implemented, McCabe said, a number of long-term tenants at the Truscott apartments appear not to be renewing their leases. He’s heard one unconfirmed estimate his office could lose as many as one third of its tenants as leases expire.”An awful lot of those folks don’t want to run [their] names through the system, because they know they’re going to get caught,” he said. “We’re not trained to spot fake visas,” which is part of the purpose of running names and numbers, such as social security numbers, through the Department of Homeland Security’s Systematic Alien Verification of Entitlements Program.Despite SAVE’s role in spotting fake documents, housing qualifications specialist Julie Kieffer says those names aren’t reported to immigration authorities.”Nobody anywhere gets alerted,” she said. The consequence, from the housing office’s standpoint, is it’s not supposed to offer housing to someone who hasn’t cleared the system.McCabe suspects many of those who aren’t seeking renewals might be exactly the people the new laws are meant to target.That’s good news for citizens and legal immigrants seeking housing through his office.”If you’re here legally, and you need housing, there’s probably going to be more opportunity than before this law was passed,” he said. “Whatever portion of that turnover has been caused by the change in the law, we’re not having any trouble filling them up.”McCabe was somewhat troubled by the fact the increased turnover could suggest the affordable housing program might have been housing illegal immigrants for some time.”As a citizen, it’s a concern,” he said. “The intent [of the affordable housing program] was to house workers, and the assumption was the workers were homegrown. That’s less and less the case.”McCabe noted the immigrants that have been renting at Truscott have “been good tenants,” but he does see the need for a law that filters illegal immigrants from legal ones.”I would prefer that we had tax-paying, hardworking Americans or legal immigrants,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with immigrants. If they’re legally here and they’re paying their dues, that’s one of the legacies of our country.”The bigger problem isn’t the immigrants themselves, he said, but that states such as Colorado have been forced to take action regarding illegals because the federal government hasn’t.”The federal government has just done a horrendous job of looking the other way so that we can have cheap labor, and they’ve only recently begun cleaning it up,” he said.McCabe anticipates that many of the people who aren’t renewing their leases, if they are illegals, will simply move to neighboring states that haven’t passed such stringent laws, and that could put Aspen and Pitkin County “at a disadvantage in the labor pool” in the short term. It also could put greater financial stress on those other states, which would then bear the burden of the costs associated with illegal immigrants receiving public benefits.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org