Centennial affordable-housing rents rise sharply; APCHA and city officials huddle while tenants protest | AspenTimes.com

Centennial affordable-housing rents rise sharply; APCHA and city officials huddle while tenants protest

Pictured is Centennial Apartments.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Tenants at Centennial Aspen Apartments face a steep rent hike this month — well over the rate of inflation and possibly in violation of lease terms with residents.

The landlord, Birge & Held — a national private equity, real-estate investment, construction, and management firm with offices in Denver and Indianapolis — posted notices to apartment doors in December.

The notices, dated Dec. 13, 2022, informed each unit of the impending rent increase, going into effect on Jan. 1.

In the notices, Birge & Held referenced an agreement with APCHA that justified the rent increase based on the All Urban Consumers Consumer Price Index for Denver. 

The increase varied by unit, but two leases reviewed by The Aspen Times showed a rent increase of approximately 17% and 30%. The Denver CPI for 2022 is 8.5%, according to an email acquired by The Times from Assistant City Manager Diane Foster to Centennial tenants. 

Also, according to the leases, Birge & Held is not permitted to increase rent before the initial lease contract term ends, except for any changes allowed by special provisions to the lease.

Neither lease had anything written in the special-provisions clause. And, the rent increase occurred during the lease term for both leases.

According to a tenant, all 148 units received a rent-increase notice, but only about 20 tenants came forward to the city.

The Times is not publishing the names of the tenants, as they fear retribution from Birge & Held or APCHA. 

Birge & Held did not respond to interview requests submitted via email Wednesday afternoon by press deadlines.

At least nine tenants contacted the city of Aspen regarding the rental increase, according to the email from Foster to Centennial tenants.

She said in a statement to The Times that Centennial tenants first contacted city staff on Dec. 19, and the city has been working on the issue since then.

She encouraged the tenants to pay their new increased rent — citing a potential inability to resolve the issue with Birge & Held and a desire to not have tenants in delinquency.

The city took the topic to the Wednesday APCHA meeting and discussed it in executive session, which was not open to the public or press. The issue will also be discussed in executive session at the Jan. 9 Aspen City Council meeting.

Cindy Christensen — the deputy director of housing, operations, and property management for APCHA — said the issue at hand is a difference in interpretation of a 1994 settlement among Centennial Aspen II limited partnership — the original owners of the complex — and local government. 

“That’s what we’re trying to work with (Birge & Held) and so forth on how we see it, and then how they see it, and how would the court see it if we ended up going to court over this,” she said.