Justice on housing front moves slowly | AspenTimes.com

Justice on housing front moves slowly

Carolyn SackariasonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN A three-bedroom affordable housing unit still remains empty even though its owner moved out a year ago and was sued by the local housing authority six months ago.The unit at 602 Midland Park Place is owned by Joe Wells, who was served a court order in January that alleged he was breaking rules that prohibit an owner of an affordable housing unit from renting it out while living full-time somewhere else.Wells moved to a multimillion dollar home in the Castle Creek Valley last year. He agreed to sell the Midland condo after the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA) ordered him to.But the unit has yet to go on the market because Wells and housing officials are negotiating what the appropriate sales price should be. Wells is seeking $200,000 in reimbursements for capital improvements made to the condo and has been collecting receipts to back them up.Meanwhile, a family of four who live in the 37-unit complex, has been waiting for the unit to be put on market so they can bid on it and move out of their 700-square-foot one-bedroom unit.One of the residents declined to comment but his neighbors think the matter has dragged on long enough.Our position is, lets start the litigation process, said Laura Calk, president of the complexs homeowners association. Its such blatant abuse.The condo will be listed for no less than $241,000, but could potentially sell for well more than $400,000 if Wells is granted his capital improvement reimbursement, according to housing officials. The unit is a category four, meaning the maximum amount a tenant with no dependents can earn is $129,000.The unit was purchased by Wells in 1978 for $77,000. Under the units deed restriction, the condo has appreciated at the rate of the Consumer Price Index and not at the 3 percent rate at which current deed-restricted units are now capped.Current housing guidelines allow for 10 percent of capital improvements to be reimbursed to owners. But because Wells unit was one of the first to be deed-restricted under the affordable housing program, it doesnt fall under current rules.Improvements made to the condo reportedly involve the kitchen being moved to the second floor and an expansion into the attic. The homeowners association that governs the Midland Avenue complex alleges that some of the improvements have spilled into common areas.The price also will be based on square footage, but housing officials dont know if its been expanded beyond the original 1,070 square feet.Wells first gave APCHA copies of checks but officials wanted more specific details to prove that the canceled checks were for improvements made to the Midland condo. He is in the process of gathering those receipts, said Chris LaCroix, a lawyer for Garfield & Hecht P.C. who is representing Wells.He said if the two sides cant agree on how much Wells should be reimbursed, there are other ways to establish a sale price according to the deed restriction.We want to get this unit into the hands of a qualified buyer, LaCroix said. Were trying to get it done and were continuing to solve the problem.Tom Smith, the attorney for the housing authority, said the deed restriction allows for an appraisal to be done if the two parties cant agree on the reimbursement amount. But that appears to be unlikely.At this point theres a real possibility well reach an agreement, Smith said.Jim McPhee, vice president of the homeowners association, said he thinks the housing authority should give Wells a deadline for providing his receipts.Im disappointed in the housing office, myself, McPhee said. Bureaucrats want to take the path of least resistance.Julie Kieffer, qualifications specialist for the authority, said she would like the matter resolved quickly.Unfortunately, it has been real slow moving, she said. Whenever you are dealing with lawyers, it takes a long time.csack@aspentimes.com