Housing office to resume audits of affordable units | AspenTimes.com

Housing office to resume audits of affordable units

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Housing officials will resume random audits this spring to ensure owners of deed-restricted units remain in compliance with the rules that govern the affordable housing program.

The effort actually began two years ago, in the spring of 2002, but stalled when the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority’s qualifications specialist left in July 2002. The position wasn’t refilled until the following March.

“At this point, we are gearing up for picking up where we left off,” said Maureen Dobson, housing director.

The authority intends to make sure everyone in the roughly 1,200 sale units it oversees are in compliance with the rules ” a push that elected officials in both the city and the county embraced in 2001.

In 2002, all homeowners were asked to sign and return an affidavit stating their compliance with the rules, but the housing office only got through about half of the follow-up audits to confirm compliance.

For most, compliance boils down to a couple of key requirements: The homeowner must reside in the unit for at least nine months a year and work full time in Pitkin County, which the housing office defines as 1,500 hours in a calendar year ” about 29 hours per week.

For most owners of affordable housing, ownership of other residential property in the Roaring Fork drainage is also prohibited, though some early buyers of deed-restricted units do not face that restriction.

Last year, the housing office dealt with 49 compliance cases, primarily instigated by a complaint from someone who believed a homeowner was violating the rules.

Pam Gabel, housing qualifications specialist, joined the authority’s staff in March 2003 and was assigned to follow up on the complaints.

Of them, 24 have been resolved, and 18 are the subject of an ongoing effort to determine whether the homeowner is in violation of the rules. Three others have been referred to a zoning officer, and four complaints were made anonymously and, therefore, weren’t pursued, according to Gabel.

Of the cases that were resolved, some homeowners furnished the requested paperwork to prove their compliance, five homeowners put their deed-restricted unit up for sale, and some homeowners applied for, and were granted, a leave of absence from their unit.

In addition, five tenants in deed-restricted rental housing either moved out of the unit or moved unqualified roommates out of the unit, according to Gabel.

In one instance, a neighbor complained that a woman wasn’t residing in her deed-restricted unit because no one ever saw her at home. As it turned out, that’s because she was working 50 to 60 hours a week and produced the paperwork to prove it, Gabel said.

Last year, Gabel also handled the qualification or requalification of 348 tenants and prospective tenants for the authority’s rental units. Tenants are required to submit tax returns and other documents every two years to prove they qualify to remain in the housing.

Homeowners, once they’ve purchased a residence, had never been asked to requalify until the housing office began the audits two years ago.

When homeowners were asked to produce a copy of their tax returns, some balked, and the housing board ultimately backed off on that demand.

In some cases, though, the housing office has found it difficult to requalify homeowners without the tax documents, according to Dobson.

“They need to bring in something. It’s difficult trying to qualify people without taxes. We found that out,” she said. “Most subsidized programs require that.

“Everything seems to draw back to the taxes in terms of verifiable information.”

A number of audited homeowners, officials note, willingly showed the housing office their tax return and two most recent paycheck stubs to verify their compliance.

Requalification can be trickier for individuals working multiple jobs and the self-employed, Dobson said.

Confirming that homeowners are meeting the employment and residency requirements are the biggies, according to Gabel.

“To be able to get that clearly demonstrated is one of my biggest challenges,” she said. “Some people think we should just take their word for it.”

Dobson said she expects to approach the housing board sometime in February and ask members to rethink the policy on tax returns.

In past discussions, housing authority attorney Tom Smith assured the board it has the legal right to ask for the document. At that time, though, the board sided with homeowners who think the request is an intrusion into their personal finances.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com