Aspen housing authority weighs more relief for tenants dealing with COVID-19 crisis

The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority will be “erring on the side of leniency” regarding the agency’s rules when it comes to people who have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

The APCHA board discussed Wednesday night the already-in-place guidelines that provide relief to those who live in the 236 units owned by the city at the Truscott, Aspen Country Inn and Smuggler properties.

But deferring April rent to be paid within six months is not enough, some board members said.

“I think this needs to be three months” and not have rent paid back, APCHA chairman John Ward said, adding that it’s likely that 80% of the people who live in the agency’s rental housing have lost their jobs and have no income coming in.

And with Wednesday’s public health order from Pitkin County extending the “stay at home” deadline to April 30, businesses will not recover quickly, board members recognized.

“I think we need to think bigger,” Ward said.

APCHA board member Rachel Richards, who also is a City Council member, said she has proposed to her board that there be rent reductions of half in April and May.

It will be a council decision, since the units are owned by the city.

Richards also noted that financial relief from the federal, state and local governments is coming, so that could affect how APCHA proceeds.

But she acknowledged that it’s going to be a long haul for the local workforce and the economy.

“I agree very much with what John Ward said: I think this is going to be a much more painful and slow recovery than folks would like to see,” she said. “Even when businesses reopen they may not hire or keep as many people.

“The challenge is that for a lot of people deferring rent to the end, if you are not going to suddenly get twice as much work or start making 20% more money doesn’t mean that you are going to be able to make up that deferred payment later and some of our own businesses are going to be facing those choices, as well.”

APCHA’s temporary policy changes issued last week for working households affected by COVID-19 include the suspension of late fees for tenants in properties managed by APCHA.

Affected households also can qualify for a one-time suspension of the minimum full-time work requirement if they can demonstrate that their loss of employment was due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Tenants can request a one-month deferral for April rent, but only if they sign a repayment plan for making up the deferred rent over the remainder of their lease, not to exceed six months.

Tenants receiving emergency financial assistance for rent from Pitkin County Human Services are not be eligible for rent deferral for April from APCHA.

Late fees are waived through June 30 for impacted COVID-19 renters.

Tenants in good standing can terminate their leases without penalties as long as they provide a 30-day notice and can prove their job loss was due to COVID-19, among other requirements.

APCHA also has suspended all evictions for properties it manages until April 30.

“We are going to work with everybody,” said APCHA Executive Director Mike Kosdrosky, adding he urges tenants and homeowners affected by the crisis to be sure to communicate with the agency.

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