Housing board still waiting for better idea than wait list | AspenTimes.com

Housing board still waiting for better idea than wait list

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Local housing officials are anxious to do away with the reviled wait list for affordable apartments but are having trouble coming up with a system they like better.

After a second debate on the topic Wednesday, the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Board sent housing office staffers back to rethink their latest recommendation – separate wait lists for individual rental complexes.

Currently, local workers hoping for a deed-restricted apartment add their names to a lengthy waiting list maintained by the housing authority. It currently contains more than 400 names, and individuals can wait years for their name to rise to the top.

Bruce Nethery, director of property management for the housing authority and the manager of Truscott Place, suggested phasing out the cumbersome list and creating a shorter list, of 25 to 50 prospective tenants, for individual apartment complexes.

If the list is full, someone who’s interested in getting on it would have to call regularly to see if there’s room for another name. The list would turn over quickly at Truscott Place, he predicted, so people on the list wouldn’t face an endless wait for a phone call.

And anyone who’s diligent enough to get on the short list is probably serious about taking an apartment when one becomes available, Nethery said. That’s not necessarily the case with the existing list, he said.

Aspen Country Inn, a deed-restricted complex at which senior citizens have top priority, has its own wait list and it works well, Nethery added.

But some Housing Board members weren’t interested in trading one list for multiple lists and forcing workers to go to the added hassle of dealing with various property managers around town. A centralized system is preferable, several members said.

“We all agreed we wanted to get rid of the wait list. Then suddenly, it comes back to a wait list where it’s not just one person you have to deal with, it’s five property managers,” said board member Marcia Goshorn.

“I just think we’re trading something that hasn’t worked very well for something else that may not work very well,” agreed member Sheri Sanzone. “This is not customer service-oriented at all.”

“There is no reason not to expect someone who wants to live here to go to that effort, period,” countered board member Keith Webster, who said he called the manager at Centennial every day for four months to get an apartment there.

Although there are nearly 800 rental units in the housing authority’s inventory, only Truscott and Castle Ridge really make use of the existing wait list, according to Cindy Christensen, operations manager at the housing office.

Marolt and Burlingame/MAA, two seasonal apartment complexes, both rent units on a first-come, first-served basis, Nethery said. Privately owned Centennial keeps a daily log of callers it uses when a unit opens up.

Tenants in all of the deed-restricted units must, however, qualify under housing authority guidelines.

“This is the way it’s done in the free market, and it works well at Aspen Country Inn,” Nethery said.

“This is taxpayer-funded, taxpayer-built,” Goshorn responded. “We’re held to a higher standard. On the free market, you can say, `Well, I like this person’s smile, I’m going to rent to them.'”

Goshorn also voiced fear that the proposed system would put too much power in the hands of the property manager.

“The one thing that scares me is you have to know somebody or suck up to somebody to get affordable housing,” she said.

When board members agreed in May to phase out the wait list, the housing office had suggested advertising rental units and awarding them to the applicant with the most seniority as a local worker.

Upon further review, staffers decided that, too, would be a cumbersome process and a costly one, as well.

Sanzone suggested advertising the units and awarding them on a first-come, first-served basis.

“What is first-come, first-served?” Nethery said. “The first person to tackle you as you walk to your door?

“There is no system that is perfect,” he said. “There never will be.”

Board member Jamie Knowlton suggested the housing office experiment with the proposed new system of multiple wait lists, but the board voted 5-2 to reject the plan.

“This is about making things easier. I don’t think this is fully baked yet,” said Tim Semrau, board chairman and a city councilman. “I don’t want to experiment with something this important.”

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]

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