Blackballed from employee housing, Aspen man sues Housing Authority
Jeremiah Casper will readily admit he made some poor choices over the years, but he doesn’t believe they were egregious enough for the local housing office to ban him for life.
Casper is one of 192 people who hold the unenviable distinction of being on the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority’s blacklist, meaning they can’t buy or rent local government-controlled housing because of their past actions. The roster dates back to 2003.
“It’s for all types of behavior,” said Julie Kieffer, who is the Housing Authority’s qualifications specialist. “Obviously it can be if somebody owes us money, or it can be for noise, damage, trespassing, bounced checks, (having) extra tenants.”
A tumultuous tenancy
Casper’s time at the city-owned Truscott Place — from August 2010 to August 2013 — was clouded by his running afoul of Housing Authority regulations.
Among his transgressions were letting his girlfriend in his place while he was serving time for a DUI in Pitkin County Jail, allowing his brother to illegally live in his unit, sending harassing texts to the complex’s property manager and maintenance staff and behaving violently toward some neighbors, according to housing records obtained by The Aspen Times through an open records request.
The Housing Authority forbids renters from having extra tenants reside in their units unless they receive special permission.
“There were some things that I did that kind of sucked,” Casper said. “But that was a long time ago.”
This past summer, he learned that the authority had blackballed him, he said. Casper appealed the decision and appeared before the Housing Authority’s eligibility review committee on Nov. 1.
When making his case to the board — comprised of Kieffer, Housing Authority Executive Director Mike Kosdrosky and Truscott Manager Pat Hinch — Casper didn’t deny what he did at Truscott. He did say, however, that some of his actions weren’t as bad as they might appear at face value.
Times were hard then, he said, with jobs difficult to come by. He let his brother live with him to help him get on his feet. He often clashed with the property manager at the time, who was Hinch’s predecessor, because he believed he was booting people’s cars and pocketing the cash they paid to remove them. Casper said he also was once behind on his rent, but has no current debts to the housing office after most recently paying off an outstanding balance of $39.
And when he served time in jail in July 2013 for his DUI, “I did give my girlfriend at the time the keys to my apartment to look after it,” Casper wrote in a May 31-dated letter to Kieffer. “Apparently the use of my apartment became a problem that I was simply not in the position to do anything about since I was in jail. Upon my release from jail, I went back home to find paperwork on my door to get out, so I did. All those legal issues have long passed and I completed all my sanction(s), so (I) don’t expect that problem to happen again, and I will never share my keys with anyone not on the lease moving forward.”
The Housing Authority refused to renew his lease in August 2013.
Meanwhile, on Nov. 3, following the eligibility review committee hearing, the housing office emailed Casper a notice saying it had denied his appeal. Over the years, four people have been asked to be removed from the list; just one prevailed, Kieffer said.
The notice to Casper, in part, said:
“We appreciate your candor and honesty, however, we can’t ignore the past issues. After careful deliberation, the committee has decided to deny your appeal and keep you on the APCHA’s ineligibility list for:
1. Threatening and harassing the staff and tenants at Truscott Place.
2. Failure to comply with occupancy standards and terms clearly defined in his lease agreement.
3. Having a history of harassing behavior that we feel could threaten the well-being and safety of staff and the other tenants.
4. The potential liability the APCHA could face for allowing you back into affordable-housing program.”
Let a judge decide
Casper could have sought a hearing before the Housing Authority’s board of directors. The Nov. 25 deadline to seek a hearing expired, and Casper took another route.
On Thursday, Casper, adamant that the Housing Authority’s position on his status was too rigid, filed a small-claims lawsuit against the authority in Pitkin County. He is seeking $30.01 — that’s $30 for the fee he paid to file the suit, and one penny in damages.
“It’s obviously not about the money,” Casper said. “I know I’m probably doing this the wrong way, but my goal is to get the decision-makers, the people way more powerful than me, in the same room.”
Casper moved to the Aspen area in 1998. He’s a Colorado native and was raised in Colorado Springs. He said he once owned a successful cleaning business, and he’s currently unemployed.
He said he currently doesn’t need housing; he’s living with his girlfriend. But being blackballed by the housing office clearly doesn’t bode well for him in the future, he said.
“I don’t need the housing right now,” he said. “The main thing is I can’t live on these properties for the rest of my life.”
His trial date is set for Jan. 18. If he loses, he said he’s prepared to accept the outcome since someone outside of the Housing Authority, Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely, will be deciding his fate.
“I really have made my most sincere effort to be transparent about what I did,” he said. “I did break some rules, and I’m sorry.”
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Pitkin County administrators are proposing a more than $142 million budget for 2020, which is about $6 million less than this year because of fewer construction projects and capital improvements.