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Housing office may review pet policies

Janet Urquhart

At least one local official is interested in boosting opportunities for pet owners to find a home in affordable housing, even if it means collecting a “hefty deposit” to cover potential damage done by four-legged companions.

Aspen City Councilman Tom McCabe, who is also a member of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Board, said he’ll be pushing for a review of the Housing Authority’s pet policies as the board reviews housing guidelines this spring.

Just last week, six owners of affordable units gained the right to own dogs with an amendment to the pet policy at the Red House Enclave near Castle Creek. The Housing Board agreed Wednesday to lift the prohibition on dogs at the six-unit complex after its residents unanimously petitioned for the change in rules. Owners will be be allowed one pet per unit; cats were already allowed at the complex.

Some residents at the adjacent Aspen Villas objected to allowing dogs at the Red House, though one dog per unit is allowed at the free-market Villas. A handful of homeowners at the 36-unit Villas have dogs.

“They [Aspen Villas owners] have that right, and here they wanted to impose that restriction on their neighbors,” said McCabe, who is hoping the Red House residents prove the Housing Board made the right call.

“I’ve got my fingers crossed that the pet owners will step up to the plate and do a good job,” he said.

The Red House covenants require pets to be leashed and owners to pick up after their animals.

The issue of dog ownership in affordable housing has gained renewed interest lately with local residents protesting a no-dog provision at the planned Burlingame Village.

Though McCabe said he supports the provision at Burlingame, where wildlife concerns and an adjacent cattle ranch dictated the no-dog policy, he said the Housing Authority may have the ability to allow pets in more of its units.

Currently, 82 percent of the sale units controlled by the Housing Authority allow pets, though not necessarily dogs, according to Michelle Bonfils, a project manager with the office. Of about 770 sale units, about 560 allow dogs, she said.

Of the approximately 700 rental units managed or owned by the Housing Authority, 29 percent allow cats, but none of them permit dogs, Bonfils said.

McCabe wonders if the housing office can accommodate dogs in some of its rental units if pet owners pay for any resulting damage and if rules regulating pets are strictly enforced.

Stiffer enforcement when there are complaints, for example, may make pet ownership more amenable to neighbors of affordable housing projects, he said.

“I’m going to propose that, if we enforce our pet rules a little bit better, perhaps some of the neighbors will have a higher feeling of comfort,” he said.

And, McCabe said, a large monetary deposit – he suggested $1,000 – might make it feasible for the housing office to allow pets in some rental units.

“I know pets do damage – not all of them, but many of them,” McCabe said. “And I really do get upset with irresponsible pet owners – and there are an awful lot of them.”

Still, McCabe said, he’d like to see responsible pet owners find more opportunities for housing within the housing program when it’s feasible.

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