APCHA debates priority housing for survivors of domestic violence

The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority Board of Directors debated a proposal Wednesday night to implement a limited priority system for victims of domestic violence in more urgent need of housing.

Presented by Response — a local nonprofit that aims to educate people on domestic violence and sexual abuse and to support survivors from Aspen to El Jebel — the proposed priority system would be for four to five domestic violence survivors each year who already meet all APCHA rental housing applicant qualifications.

The survivor also must be part of Response’s housing program, which provides rent assistance for as long as a year and helps clients manage their finances so they can live on their own.

“Finding housing for anyone in this valley can be challenging, and if you add the stress and crisis of being in a domestic violence situation, it’s that much harder,” Shannon Meyer, executive director of Response, said to the APCHA board.

“This is not any way asking for exceptions to any of your rules, it’s just to consider the timing factor of people fleeing a domestic violence situation and how they may not have the ability or the luxury to wait until their name comes to the top of the list.”

But while APCHA board members voiced their support of Response’s housing program and forming some sort of partnership with the group, some also felt like creating a limited priority system for qualified survivors through APCHA would be a slippery slope.

“It’s not about (Response), it’s about segregating our communities into ‘worth it’ and ‘not worth it’,” said Rachael Richards, who serves on the APCHA board and Aspen City Council. “You have to think about the bigger picture as opposed to each sympathy cause because there’s going to be a lot of them.”

Richards went on to say she supported Response, but added there are a lot of locals in need of housing assistance and creating a limited priority system for one group in need could create a snowball effect and make housing even harder to acquire for all qualified applicants.

The APCHA board members worked to brainstorm other ways to help Response survivors and housing program clients find local units — whether that be through a more temporary housing partnership with APCHA, building housing or for the nonprofit to seek partnerships with deed-restricted property managers — but ultimately felt the conversation needed to be brought up among the other governing bodies in Aspen and Pitkin County before any sort of decision could be made.

“I think it needs further discussion. I’m not ready to make a decision or give direction to staff until we’ve had further discussion,” said Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman, who sits on the APCHA board. “It’s a good conversation and a challenging dilemma.”

While the board grappled with the proposed priority system Wednesday, town staff in Snowmass approved it for survivors in need about a month ago.

Betsy Crum, town housing director, said Wednesday she and Town Manager Clint Kinney agreed they could provide limited priority for domestic violence survivors who already meet all of the town’s rental housing applicant qualifications each year.

“To date, no one has come to us before in that situation seeking housing, but it’s a great accommodation for people in a potentially dangerous situation,” Crum said of the decision. “It’s about creating safety.”

No survivors have received town housing through the new limited priority system yet, Crum said. She also said changes to the town’s rental housing guidelines and regulations do not have to go before Town Council.

The system will allow qualified survivors to access Snowmass housing sooner if it’s available and is not necessarily temporary. If the survivor continues to meet the town housing requirements and regulations, Crum explained, that person could rent their unit for years to come. Crum acknowledged she serves on the Response Board of Directors, but did not see the creation of the limited priority system for the nonprofit’s housing program clients and survivors in Snowmass as a conflict of interest, as she says it does not benefit her in any way.

“It was a request that was brought to us that we felt we could meet,” Crum said. “Most of the survivors qualify for APCHA, so I think it’s a bigger ask for them.”

After roughly an hour of discussion Wednesday, the APCHA board recommended that Response staff bring their proposal to the Aspen City Council and the Pitkin County Commissioners for further discussion on how best to accommodate Response survivors and more broadly who APCHA priority housing should accommodate.

“I’m happy to see an opening for this conversation,” Richards said. “It’s something we’ve been looking for for a long time. It would give us a chance to really identify and talk about the big picture.”