Housing Board wants RO sold through lottery | AspenTimes.com

Housing Board wants RO sold through lottery

Sarah S. Chung

The Housing Board is recommending that all future Resident Occupied units be resold through the lottery system.

But on the advice of Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority attorney Tom Smith, the Housing Board isn’t recommending changing the rules for existing RO units. The board met Wednesday to discuss changes to the housing guidelines.

The board’s recommendation would remove the only remaining distinction between RO housing and category units.

“RO as it was created no longer exists. There is now absolutely no difference between RO and category five,” said housing board member Tim Semrau.

When RO was first established, with the intention to fill the gap between category housing and the free market, the only requirement for a buyer was that he or she be a Pitkin County employee. Unlike category housing, there were no income or asset requirements and no cap on the initial sale price of an RO unit.

Last year the city, but not the county, capped the initial sale price for RO at $425,000 and capped the average sale price of all affordable housing within a development at $170,000.

If the city and county accept the housing board’s recommendation to sell future RO units through the lottery, it will be, predicted one housing board member, “the death of RO.”

Prompting the call for selling RO units through the lottery system is the potential for kickbacks to RO owners, who can currently choose the buyer of their homes when they’re ready to sell. There are strict appreciation caps on the resale of RO units, but allegations of “bidding wars” and buyers giving sellers extra money under the table have surfaced.

“I always had a problem with the concept of the right for an RO owner to sell to his brother or friend or whoever, when in fact we give them the opportunity to purchase their home in the first place . there is public subsidy at play,” said board chairwoman Jackie Kasabach. “I don’t understand why people who can afford RO should have more rights. That means money buys privilege.”

Semrau, as a developer of two RO projects, fiercely opposed instituting an RO price cap and average price for worker housing within a project. Bringing RO into the lottery system is one more nail in the RO coffin, he said.

“This won’t, in and of itself, make or break RO. But every little rule you add on makes the prospect of building RO that much less attractive. The more you screw things down, the less you get,” Semrau said.

Similarly Aspen resident Michael Sailor, who currently lives in RO housing, predicted “North 40 will be the last RO neighborhood built if you continue to crush the system.”

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