Aspen’s housing authority sticks with internal investigations into compliance issues
Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board receives update on compliance efforts; people not living in a deed-restricted unit hard to prove
The board of directors of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority on Wednesday stopped short of directing staff to hire an outside private investigator to determine whether people living in deed-restricted units are violating the rules.
Board members said during their meeting that staff is doing a good job of investigating anonymous complaints and tips without reaching too far into people’s personal lives.
The discussion came during an update by APCHA compliance manager Bethany Spitz on how many tips and cases the agency has received and investigated since October, which is 68, and some of those are duplicates.
That is roughly 5% of the entire 3,123-unit inventory within APCHA, said board member John Ward, who added that an outside investigator should be brought in only if APCHA’s investigation comes up short.
“Maybe you say that person is lying or some of this stuff doesn’t quite make sense, but I can’t really put my finger on it,” he said. “There has to be some more cause.”
Spitz asked the board’s preference on a private investigator because one has been used in the past, and APCHA stops short of serving as the “bed police.”
One of the top complaints is people not living in their units, which is difficult to prove, Spitz said.
“There have been a few cases over the past six to nine months where we cannot determine that a violation has occurred, and we cannot find documentation that that person is not living in the unit but we are receiving complaints that they are not there,” she continued. “We are really relying on people’s conscience to do the right thing.”
Spitz said APCHA will give a 24-hour notice for a site visit but that rarely proves anything.
“Because folks sometimes make an apartment look livable and the end of the day I’m not feeling someone’s toothbrush … besides opening a fridge and making sure there’s food in it and it looks lived in,” she said. “It’s not very easy for us to determine if someone’s actually in the unit.”
APCHA will research individuals through social media, bank accounts and other online sources to determine their whereabouts if there is cause.
That usually comes when APCHA issues a notice of investigation to an individual who is living in one of its deed-restricted units and asking for employment verification and other documentation.
Many of the tips that the agency receives come through APCHA’s HomeTrek online data system, where people can submit a complaint anonymously and not log in.
That was a relief to APCHA board member and Aspen City Councilwoman Rachel Richards, who expressed concern that people who submit complaints could be identified in public through open records laws.
“People have asked me, ‘How do I notify APCHA but not have people coming after me?’” she said.
Spitz said if a name is not attached to a complaint, it is not subject to open records.
She also noted that of the complaints that have come in since October, three owners of deed-restricted units have admitted their failure to follow the rules and sold their properties.
“What we are seeing is that people are just working with us,” Spitz said. “They are not going through the public hearing process; they are not ending up on the front page of the newspaper.”
With only four members of the seven-person APCHA board present during Wednesday’s meeting, acting chair Skippy Mesirow said he’d like input from his colleagues on their opinions about future outside assistance in compliance.
APCHA board member and Pitkin County Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury said she appreciated the compliance update and it’s helpful for the public to understand what the agency is doing.
“There continues to be some belief in the community that APCHA is wide open for abuse,” she said. “I think some of that criticism is geared towards the regulations themselves and some of that is a misunderstanding of the actual effort put into compliance, efforts by staff to hold the program with high integrity.”
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