Aspen housing officials look to unload ‘problematic units’ |

Aspen housing officials look to unload ‘problematic units’

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority would like to sell a dozen “problematic” employee units on the free market, allowing the workers who own them first dibs on other units if need be.

At issue are deed-restricted units within free-market complexes where residents of the employee unit sometimes face huge special assessments or fees that their free-market counterparts push through. The units are typically purchased by a developer or free-market home buyer to meet employee-housing requirements. They are turned over to the housing authority and added to the pool of worker housing.

The are “becoming problematic,” said housing director Tom McCabe.

Most recently, a couple in one unit was hit with a special assessment of more than $200,000 – more than they paid for the unit – and turned to the housing board for help.

“They were asking the housing board to bail them out, but it was an amount of money the housing board couldn’t swallow,” McCabe told Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday.

“They were basically screwed,” said housing board member Marcia Goshorn.

The housing authority’s intention to sell all such units must first gain formal approval from the Aspen City Council and county commissioners; the latter were briefed on the proposal during a joint meeting with housing officials.

The couple in question is currently residing, rent-free, in another unit the housing authority recently acquired. Their condo complex is undergoing a significant remodeling – the reason for the special assessment.

McCabe has proposed buying the remodeled unit back from the couple at the price established by the housing guidelines, then selling it on the free market for presumably far more. The couple would be allowed to buy another comparable unit in the housing authority’s inventory without participating in a lottery.

“We figure that’s a fair way for us to help them,” McCabe said.

The other 11 units would be similarly sold when owners are ready to sell or when they’re hit with a crippling assessment and want to opt out without losing a place to live.

The profits from the free-market sales would go back to either the city or the county, depending on which government acquired it in the first place.

The housing authority has also proposed ending the practice of accepting so-called “buy-downs” – free-market units that are purchased and deed-restricted as housing mitigation unless future fees and assessments are pro-rated to reflect the unit’s reduced value as employee housing.

“I like phasing out these kind of units even though no one likes to lose inventory,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield.

“It’s too bad this is happening,” said Commissioner Patti Clapper, expressing regret that the housing authority is losing “buy-downs” as an option to keep units in the community accessible to working locals.

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