Housing office backs down on tax info
Aspen Times Staff Writer
The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority is backing down from its demand for tax returns as a means of checking to make sure owners of deed-restricted housing aren’t breaking the rules.
After a lengthy debate, the housing board agreed Wednesday to provide another option to homeowners who are uncomfortable turning over their federal tax return to show they are still in compliance with the deed restrictions that govern their unit.
The Housing Authority is in the process of randomly auditing all owners of deed-restricted housing to make sure they are complying with the rules. Some homeowners have balked at the demand for their tax return as part of the audit.
Although Housing Authority attorney Tom Smith assured the board it has the legal right to ask for the document, the board sided with homeowners who think the request is an intrusion into their personal finances.
The board voted 5-0 with one member abstaining to allow homeowners the option of providing their tax return plus their last two paycheck stubs, or providing the housing office with a letter from their employer verifying their employment.
The housing office is checking to make sure homeowners are still living and working full time in Pitkin County and that they don’t own other residential property in the Roaring Fork drainage. Line 17 and Schedule E on a federal tax return indicate income from rental property, so housing officials asked for tax returns when they began the enforcement program earlier this year.
Homeowner Mike Hoffman, who objected to the request for his tax return, suggested the housing office obtain tax rolls on CD-ROM from the counties that comprise the Roaring Fork drainage and check them to make sure a homeowner doesn’t hold title to another area residence.
Cindy Christensen, interim housing director, said she would check into that option.
“I understand your problem. You simply want to confirm that people are complying with the guidelines,” Hoffman said. “There are less intrusive ways to go about this.”
“I think with the tax returns, you’re going way over,” agreed homeowner Jay Parker.
“Somehow, we’ve got this bugaboo that a tax return is secret. It’s not,” Smith said. “It’s sent to the federal government.
“Anybody who thinks there aren’t people out there today who are in violation of this provision are in dreamland,” he added. “There is a compelling reason to require the information.”
But board member Jamie Knowlton suggested the housing office was becoming “Orwellian” in its search for violations. “I don’t think it’s our job to go out and make people in affordable housing villains,” he said.
“The key here is to find the least intrusive methods,” agreed Tim Semrau, board chairman and a city councilman. “We want to create a program that people want to comply with.”
Initially, Semrau suggested doing away with the request for a tax return altogether, but since most people so far have been willing to provide it, the board agreed to keep it as an option.
[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is email@example.com.]
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At the center of allegations of a $2 billion tax fraud scheme, the highest amount the federal government has accused against an American, is a businessman who lives in Houston and Aspen.