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Housing officials give Aspen woman an eviction reprieve

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

ASPEN – The Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority board on Wednesday showed leniency toward a local woman whose status as a homeowner was called into question because of her lack of employment.

In a 3-0 vote, the board gave Heidi Chase Mines until the end of July to find a job. Mines, a single mother of two teenage boys, faces the prospect of being forced to sell the deed-restricted house on East Hopkins Avenue she’s owned for 17 years.

Mines submitted documentation showing that she is actively seeking employment. Last summer, she qualified for a state program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which requires that she spend 32 hours per week searching for a job. The job-seeking activities have to be documented and submitted to the state.

She also mentioned her struggle with breast cancer. The diagnosis four years ago and subsequent treatment were ordeals that required her to stop working full time, she said.

At the public hearing on her case Wednesday, Mines apologized to the board for not taking care of the paperwork and requests for information the housing authority staff has sought over the past few months. She said her state of mind was out of sorts after housing authority staff told her she would have to sell the home where she raised her two sons.

“I’ve been advised that I should have come through on the deadlines, but it was just one of those situations where I sort of felt hopeless, and I knew that I couldn’t provide what you guys were asking for,” Mines said. “Perhaps you could say I was a little bit in denial. I’ve been struggling in so many ways that you just get to where there are things that are very hard to deal with. I realize that’s no excuse.”

Mines had considerable support at the hearing. Local attorney Jim Moran spoke on her behalf, as did a friend, Jeff Moonitz, and Aspen resident Ruth Harrison.

Moonitz – a 36-year Roaring Fork Valley resident and former Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy, Snowmass Village policeman and Aspen volunteer fireman – said the potential action to force Mines to sell her home marked the first time he’s ever been ashamed to be associated with the county.

“If there were some kind of universal application of these rules, then it would make sense to me,” Moonitz said. He said it seemed that Mines and Susan Johnson, a woman who last week was evicted from her studio apartment at Truscott Place, “have been singled out for this witch hunt.”

“Did somebody rat them out?” Moonitz asked. “Why those two, when we know there are other people with violations that are much worse, where they may own two or three other houses and they are using (public housing) for a vacation home? I really am ashamed that this is going on, and I don’t think it’s right.”

Board Chairwoman Kristen Sabel said that she’s unaware of any other cases that involve a public-housing owner with multiple properties and that anyone with such information should inform housing authority staff.

Moonitz said it was not in his nature to take on the role of “a rat” and added that the board should re-evaluate its rules and policies for people facing exceptional circumstances, especially in light of the difficult economic conditions that job seekers have faced since the recession hit Aspen in early 2009.

Harrison, a frequent letter writer to the opinion pages of local newspapers, expressed her dismay over the board’s potential action.

“This is a perfect example of a rule that needs to be broken,” she said. “I don’t get it.”

Before the discussion, board member Ron Erickson recused himself from the hearing on Mines’ case, citing a conflict of interest. Mines disclosed that since a news story was published earlier this week about her plight, Erickson offered her a job, but to accept it she would have to reactivate her real estate agent’s license. Mines said she also had another promising job lead.

Johnson, who said she is a friend of Mines, also attended the hearing and expressed dismay over the board’s willingness to give Mines a break. Johnson suggested that Sabel had unfairly targeted her for eviction, which Sabel denied.

On Feb. 1, the board gave Johnson a month to find a steady job by Feb. 29. Johnson was unable to do so and was in the process of setting up her own business with the goal of becoming compliant with housing authority rules when she got the eviction notice last week.

Johnson stormed out of Wednesday’s meeting after being chided for talking about her own case and not speaking on the situation involving Mines. Housing authority attorney Tom Smith told her, “Your case is over. … The hearing has been concluded on your violations.”

After the meeting, Johnson, who has previously been homeless, said she wasn’t upset that Mines was given extra time to find employment, but she wondered why she didn’t get the same consideration.

“Tom Smith said, ‘We’re not talking about you – we’re talking about Heidi.’ … What was that all about? And Ron Erickson, who voted against me, had to (recuse himself)? I’m going to get an attorney, call the ACLU. It’s total favoritism, and I’m going to bring it out.”

asalvail@aspentimes.com


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