Housing loophole stirs up squabble | AspenTimes.com

Housing loophole stirs up squabble

Sarah S. Chung

On the surface, the terms “tenant” and “resident” could be interchangeable. But the difference between the two can be quite significant if your apartment complex is being purchased by the Housing Authority.

That distinction came into play with the recently purchased Marthinsson-Nostdahl Condominiums. In that case, each “tenant” had the right of first refusal to purchase their units, regardless of where they resided.

In December 1998, the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority purchased the 10-unit complex in order to convert the apartments into employee housing.

Seven of the 10 tenants want to know why Othello Clarke was able to purchase his unit, alleging he never lived there, though he paid the rent. Several of them showed up for an emotionally charged discussion with the housing board Wednesday.

Clarke told the board the reason two tenants aren’t objecting to his unit purchase is because they can testify he did, in fact, live in the building. His roommate also confirmed that Clarke lived in the unit.

How much time Clarke actually spent in his Marthinsson-Nostdahl apartment is irrelevant, under Housing Authority policy. Clarke was allowed to buy his unit because his name was on the lease and he had paid the rent. He met the definition of tenant.

But during and after Wednesday’s discussion, some housing board members questioned whether the policy is too lax.

Technically, in a buy-down situation, a qualifying tenant could move in the day before the authority buys a building and qualify to buy the unit. The tenant only has to be a qualified Pitkin County employee on the day the contract to buy the unit is signed.

Hypothetically, the lease-holder of a privately owned apartment might never have actually lived there. But if, between the time the authority buys the building and the tenants sign contracts to buy their units, the individual moves in and finds a job here, he would qualify to own the unit.

That’s a loophole, argued board member Carrie Britton, that needs to be closed.

“I think they need to have the same qualifications [as lottery applicants.] They should be three-year residents and work here full-time,” Britton said.

But board member Bob Helmus disagreed. When the Housing Authority acquires a building, not displacing the current tenants should be “the number one priority.” Splitting hairs over who is and isn’t a “resident” is silly, he said.

“I don’t want to be a bureaucrat and make rules that are totally unenforceable,” Helmus said. “There’s a certain element of luck in a lottery and a certain element of luck in buy-downs.”

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