Housing abuse – rampant or rare? | AspenTimes.com

Housing abuse – rampant or rare?

Janet Urquhart

Allegations of abuse within the employee housing program, made most recently during a televised news conference last week, have spurred a response from the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority.Housing Director Maureen Dobson declined to term the news release issued Thursday a defensive reaction, but she conceded it was prompted by allegations that surface repeatedly in the community, even though charges of abuse are rarely substantiated.”In general, I think there are a lot of misconceptions about our program,” she said. “We just wanted to get the facts out there.”The housing office has long required renters in its program to requalify. Since 2001, it has asked the same of the owners of deed-restricted worker housing. So far, less than 1 percent of unit owners have been found in violation, she said.That contradicts the rampant abuse alleged by Junee Kirk in last week’s news conference, convened by opponents of the city’s proposed Burlingame Ranch affordable housing project.Kirk said she found six out of 10 employee units occupied by someone other than the owner as she canvassed local neighborhoods.”She says it on TV, she repeats it while gathering petitions and it’s not true or close to true,” wrote Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland in an Aspen Times guest opinion (see columnists). A thousand dollars for you or her or anyone who can back up one-tenth of the claim.”Asked at the news conference if she had reported any of the suspected violations to the housing office, Kirk said she had not.”Obviously, if people have concerns, we want people to refer them to us so we can check out the facts,” Dobson said.Of some 91 cases of potential noncompliance reported to the office by the public since 2001, 82 have been resolved and nine remain under review. Of the 82 closed cases, 24 units involved infractions that resulted in an owner or renter losing the residence, according to the housing office. Those confirmed violations constitute less than 1 percent of the housing authority’s total inventory of about 2,600 units.In addition, the housing office obtained a copy of the initiative petitions recently circulated by Kirk and others, which have been submitted to the city.A cursory review did not reveal any signatories who claimed an address in a deed-restricted unit who weren’t supposed to be residing there, Dobson said.The housing office, has, however, stepped up its enforcement of ownership units, starting this year. Rather than requiring owners to requalify periodically on a random basis, they will all do so every two years, just like renters.All owners of deed-restricted units were asked to sign an affidavit in December that confirms they are not in violation of various requirements spelled out in the affidavit. The housing office’s qualifications specialist, Julie Kieffer, will follow up, both on affidavits that were not returned and when further verification from a homeowner is merited, Dobson said.No private information provided by tenants and homeowners for compliance purposes is disclosed to the public unless a public grievance hearing is held, notes the housing office news release.Renters and homeowners in the program are required to work at least 1,500 hours per year in Pitkin County, can’t own other residential property in the Roaring Fork drainage, and must maintain their employee unit as their sole residence.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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