Aspen housing office reexamining loan practices |

Aspen housing office reexamining loan practices

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority could soon alter the way it assesses income levels in regard to student loans, retirement funds, self-employment claims, assets and liabilities.

The housing office is soliciting bids from financial experts on the issue, and proposals are expected back Feb. 17. Operations Manager Cindy Christensen said Friday that the study could take between three and six months after that.

Housing authority board Chairman Ron Erickson said there’s a feeling among his fellow board members that perhaps income requirements are too high and asset caps are too low.

“We’re trying to come up with a reasonable mix on how to have some accurate numbers for dealing with assets, income and expenses,” Erickson said.

Currently, 60 percent of retirement funds are counted toward homeowners’ assets. Student loans count against total assets but do not impact income levels. In addition to examining how to gauge a self-employed individual’s income, the study will look at assessment of stocks, bonds, debt, property ownership and mortgages.

The Next Generation Advisory Commission, a group of young, local professionals, has been involved in discussions with the housing authority, particularly in regard to income adjustments for telecommuters and people with student loans.

“We’re coming into this willing and excited to discuss any ways of improving the housing program,” Next Generation Chairman Skippy Mesirow said.

The group, which is seeking applicants to fill vacant board seats, has served as an advocate for young people looking to remain in Aspen long term. Led by Christine Benedetti, the group’s housing subcommittee has also been involved with the housing authority concerning its guidelines.

On Tuesday, the Aspen City Council and Pitkin County commissioners discussed the prospect of giving those who live in affordable housing priority while moving within the program. As an example, Benedetti said couples with growing families could benefit.

“Of course we want to have absolute deference to the rest of the community and we want to recognize the rest of the community,” Mesirow said. “Prioritization within the system I think allows for an elegant solution.”

Commissioner Rachel Richards pointed out Tuesday that there are people in the community who have waited decades to get into affordable housing, saying she would move cautiously with implementing prioritization. She argued this could work against young people looking to make it financially feasible to live in Aspen.

“(An example is) young people working here for a few years deciding they’ll never get into the system and taking their skills and talents elsewhere,” Richards said.

Erickson pointed out that when an in-program owner moves to a new unit, their unit goes back on the market.

“I’m not arguing that one is better than the other. I’m just saying we need to consider that, as well,” Erickson said.

Both the commissioners and the council will have a chance to review any potential changes the housing authority drafts.

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