Aspen Village cannot be released from housing rules |

Aspen Village cannot be released from housing rules

The homeowners at Aspen Village are once again clamoring to be released from Pitkin County’s affordable housing deed restrictions.

And once again, they should be told they have gotten all the concessions they can expect.

To do otherwise would be to strike a potentially fatal blow to local government’s much-praised affordable housing program, and to the future of the community at large.

The homeowners at Aspen Village were, until 1995, in the precarious position of most mobile-home dwellers – they owned their mobile homes and rented the spaces on which those homes were parked.

According to documents cited in the homeowners’ battle over the deed restrictions, they had been trying to buy the land beneath their homes since the early 1980s, to no effect.

But in 1994, an organization called The Conservation Fund was angling to buy a huge chunk of land that included the mobile home park. And as part of the deal, the organization was to sell the mobile home park to the residents.

In order for the deal to be completed, however, the residents had to move fast and arrange a few shortcuts and special deals. They asked for, and got, exemption from the county’s complicated Growth Management Quota System, which regulates the pace of subdivision and development in the county. And they were put through a fast-track development review process. They were given a grant by the county to help them pay the costs of the conversion of the park from rental to ownership. And they were exempted from a significant portion of the county’s affordable housing guidelines and restrictions, including rules governing the maximum income allowed to purchasers of affordable housing and the “appreciation caps” that govern resale prices of deed-restricted housing.

Now, they claim they did not know they were to be subject to any other rules, and maintain that because the county did not spend any money in creating this pocket of 150 employee homes (the homeowners repaid the grant, with interest), they should be released from any restrictions.

The trouble is, one of their own homeowners’ board members, Richard Jackson, said back in 1996 that he knew about the deed restrictions when the deal was signed, and maintained that everyone else did, too. Jackson was forced off the board soon thereafter.

And the deed restrictions are among the least restrictive of all the housing complexes in Pitkin County as it is, requiring only that residents be employees who work in the county. They are able to sell their homes for whatever price they can get, and some of the homes are fetching fairly high prices, according to reports.

This one remaining restriction is all that is preventing the homes at Aspen Village from being gobbled up by speculators. They say their covenants require that they be owner occupied, but that is not an official restriction and can be changed at any time by a vote of the association.

Local governments created the housing rules as a way to ensure that local workers can still afford to live in the upper valley. If Aspen Village is allowed to exempt itself from those rules, what’s to stop every other affordable housing complex from doing the same thing? The Villagers say they’ve lived there since before the affordable housing rules went into effect, but others can say the same thing about their homes.

And the simple fact is that the deal to sell them those homes was made possible by the assistance of our government. We, the citizenry at large, have every right to demand that in return we at least get the assurance that those homes remain open and affordable to the local working class.

On the other hand, some of the homeowners have complained that the rules prevent them from taking jobs downvalley, since the rules say they must work in Pitkin County. We think it is reasonable for the original owners of the units – the people who were part of the original process of buying the land – to be “grandfathered in” so that they can work downvalley if they want to.

But for all subsequent buyers the deed restrictions must remain in place and be enforced. Aspen Village has already gotten enough special treatment. And our limited affordable housing is too precious to lose.

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