Iraq vet could lose Aspen housing |

Iraq vet could lose Aspen housing

ASPEN ” An Iraq war veteran’s employee housing is in jeopardy because his government disability income is more than what the rules allow.

Casey Owens, a 26-year-old former Marine and a double amputee, was informed by the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority earlier this month that he would have to move out of his apartment on Lone Pine Road because his income exceeds $32,000, which is the maximum a person can earn annually and still qualify to live in a deed-restricted category 1 unit.

Through a routine check by the housing authority, which requires all employees living in deed-restricted units to submit tax returns and qualify under the program’s guidelines, it was determined that Owens doesn’t meet the qualifications for the apartment he lives in.

Julie Kieffer, housing enforcement officer, sent Owens and the property owner, Marne Obernauer, a letter stating Owens would have to move out within a year or make less money.

The housing board is scheduled to discuss Owens’ situation March 19 and will determine whether an exception should be made.

“If we apply the rules, he shouldn’t be there,” said Tom McCabe, the authority’s executive director. “But he’s a disabled vet … if we throw him out in the snow, it will do the program harm [in terms of public perception].”

At issue, however, is that Owens didn’t initially qualify to live in the apartment, which is classified as an employee dwelling unit (EDU) ” an affordable housing requirement necessary for the approval of the larger home on the property.

Apparently, Obernauer didn’t notify the housing office that Owens was moving in and needed to qualify.

“I thought it had been discussed with people behind the scenes,” Owens said. “I had no idea that there were [income] categories … It was just surprising. I would have held off and found a category that applied to me.”

Kieffer said the housing office has no record of any employee’s qualifications to live in the unit since 2001, but she is aware there have been other tenants before Owens, who moved in last summer.

While the EDU is required to be occupied by an employee of Pitkin County who works here at least nine months out of the year, that tenant must qualify before moving in, and it’s the responsibility of the property owner to make sure that happens.

“From a regulatory standpoint, they blew us off,” McCabe said of the property owners. “I have to take this to the [housing] board and see what to do with it. I don’t know what the board will do, but obviously they’ll give me direction.”

Although the board has yet to review the case, making an exception for Owens is possible.

“We’re probably going to bend the rules,” Kieffer said.

Owens is worried about his future and said he doesn’t want to ruffle the feathers of any decision makers who control his fate. He added that he doesn’t see it as an adversarial situation; he just hopes the housing board will understand the circumstances and let him stay in the apartment.

With the assistance of a veteran’s group, Owens said he made over $30,000 in improvements to the unit to make it more livable as a 100 percent disabled person.

Owens works pro bono for Challenge Aspen’s ski racing program. He relies on disability and his military pension for income.

He moved to Aspen after living in and out of hospitals, including Walter Reed National Army Medical Center, as well as staying with his parents in Houston.

Owens was injured in 2004 during his second tour of duty in Baghdad when his Humvee ran over an anti-tank mine. He has had several surgeries since he returned from Iraq.

After being recruited to work in disabled sports, Owens moved to the valley and lived at a lodge in Snowmass for five weeks before moving into the Aspen apartment. He signed a two-year lease and pays $530 a month.

“It sucks because for the last several years I have been moving around in hospitals and whatever,” Owens said. “I just want a place to call my home.

“This is just one more thing to worry about.”

This correction was published Feb. 26:

Monday’s article, “Iraq vet could lose housing,” incorrectly reported Casey Owens’ role with Challenge Aspen. Owens is a Challenge Aspen participant and a member of the Challenge Aspen Competition Team. He does not receive any income from Challenge Aspen and he pays a fee to participate in the competition program.

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